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maryann johanson, ruining movies since 1997

An American Carol (review)

Michael Moore Is Fat

I don’t usually dread watching a DVD: I dread theatrical films because you’re totally at their mercy, sitting in the dark in a multiplex or in a private screening room. But with a DVD, even if it’s awful, you at least have the comfort of your own home and your own stuff, and even if you are bizarrely afflicted by the certain kind of OCD that demands you watch a film through to the end, it’s just not the same kind of assault when bad cinema throws itself at you in your own living room as when that happens in a public place.
But I was dreading An American Carol so much that the DVD just sat there on my desk, staring me in the face for weeks. Taunting me, almost — daring me to finally pop it into the player. Which, as there came a moment when I could no longer put it off, I did.

Oh dear. Oh oh oh dear. It’s so much worse than I could have imagined.

I swear it’s true that I would sincerely welcome an honest conservative argument for, you know, the last eight years. For Bush and warrantless wiretapping and Guantanamo Bay and invading sovereign nations and why we really, really need to give rich corporations breaks we aren’t willing to give to poor people with few resources. And, indeed, I have a new friend who is conservative who recently returned from Afghanistan where he served as an army officer who has given me some new perspectives on some aspects of what’s been going on there. I’m saying this: I’m willing to be convinced that I’m wrong when I say that our leaders are only out for themselves and their rich, connected friends; I’m willing to be convinced that those who rail against those leaders have the wrong end of the stick, and that there is a legitimate case for the U.S. global-law-defying invasion of Iraq.

American Carol could have been that movie. If there was an honest conservative defense of the last eight years, it could have been put forth in a movie like this, which would like to be thoughtful — I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt here — as well as humorous, but simply can’t be bothered. If director David Zucker — who wrote the film with Myrna Sokoloff and Lewis Friedman — has something real to say to contradict what lefties have been saying for years, where is it?

Because it ain’t here. American Carol reeks of desperation, erecting bizarre straw-man arguments against the left that it thinks it can easily knock down… and then it can’t even knock them down. It posits — poorly — a fantasy story in which left-wing documentary filmmaker Michael Malone (Kevin Farley: Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights), who wants to abolish the Fourth of July for reasons left undetailed, who hates “the troops,” who “love[s] America” and explains that “that’s why it needs to be destroyed,” is visited by three angels, Dickens style, who show him the error of his ways. And the angels — including Kelsey Grammer (Swing Vote, X-Men: The Last Stand) as General George S. Patton and country star Trace Adkins as country star Trace Adkins — are unable to do that except by suggesting that World War II was the exact equivalent of the “war on terror,” that anyone who opposes the current American regime is the equivalent of Nazi appeaser or even a Nazi lover, and that if we hadn’t done, as a nation, precisely what we’ve done in the last eight years, well, it would be the same as if Lincoln hadn’t freed the slaves.

Never mind that this is all wildly condescending to those on both sides of the argument (I will continue to believe that there are honest people on both sides). Never mind that American Carol assumes that those on its own side of the argument are too ignorant to have any historical perspective, or are too stupid to appreciate it. This is the thing that galls: If you need to invent shit about your opponents (abolishing the Fourth of July? WTF?) then surely that means you realize you cannot meet them on honest ground.

By that measure, An American Carol is its own refutation.

And yet, it’s all so much worse. Carol believes it is bolstering its own arguments when it suggests that:

• lesbians are funny merely for being lesbians
• all Arabs are named Mohammed Hussein (kinda like how all Americans are named Bob Smith?)
• Islamic suicide bombers are either dupes or idiots (which seems to me to imply either that we should pity them or that they can’t be truly dangerous, but what do I know?)
• anyone attending a Fourth of July barbecue must be a conservative right-winger
• education is indocrintation — well, at Columbia University, at least; presumably not so much at Bob Jones University
• George W. Bush is just like Abe Lincoln
• girls are sexually attracted only to guys who conform to the right-wing definition of American heroism
• Christians can’t be terrorists because they don’t hijack airplanes, and nothing other than hijacking airplanes qualifies as terrorism
• ACLU lawyers are zombies who deserve to be shot
• lawyers who uphold the Constitution are like premenstrual women, and we all know what a drag nags like bitches on the rag are
• representatives of the U.S. government who “protect the Ten Commandments” are totally different from the Taliban imposing its ideas of religious righteousness on the citizens of Afghanistan
• audiences “want” to hear that our health care sucks and guns kill people and everything else that Michael Moore–excuse me, Malone covers in his movies
• Michael Moore–excuse me, Malone panders to audiences and that’s why they flock to his movies and that’s why he’s so popular; also, no one goes to see Moore’s movies, and he’s totally irrelevant
• Michael Moore–excuse me, Malone is fat, smells bad, and is sexually frustrated, and that’s why he’s wrong about everything
• it’s possible to “abuse” the freedom of speech
• the “dust of 3,000 innocent human beings and the great heroes who tried to save them” on 9/11 justifies absolutely any behavior on the part of the U.S. whatsoever.

It would be a kindness to say that An American Carol is so appallingly simplistic that it makes me want to barf. It’s way worse than simplistic — it lies. It flat out lies. I don’t know how American Carol can sleep at night. How does it live with itself? How does it go through the day feeling good about itself?

How does it think we can possibly be on its side?


MPAA: rated PG-13 for rude and irreverent content, and for language and brief drug material

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb | trailer
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