America: The Motion Picture Review
Well, it had to happen sometime. For the first time ever, a project involving Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the directors behind Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, The LEGO Movie, and producers of Into the Spiderverse, was a bust. This past week, America: The Motion Picture premiered on Netflix, just in time for the Fourth of July weekend. However, instead of being the second coming of Team America: World Police, what we got was, essentially, an attempt to fuse the artistic style of Archer with pop culture references on the level of Ready Player One and Robot Chicken together. The end result is less of a satirical retelling of America’s founding and more a teenager’s fanfic that they wrote for their history class the night before it was due. It’s not even the good, high-quality fanfiction, either.
A Bro-tastic Bust
The opening five minutes of the film manage to set the overall tone of the film. Firstly, we see the Founding Fathers playing beer pong to decide how the Declaration of Independence will start, only for all of them to be slaughtered by British Redcoats led by Benedict Arnold. The scene then changes to Ford’s Theater where Abe Lincoln and George Washington (who are bros for life in this film) are seeing a concert. However, the fun gets cut short when Benedict turns into a werewolf and rips Lincoln’s throat out before telling the audience to get bent.
That wasn’t a typo. Benedict Arnold turns into a werewolf. Why? Because, apparently, the people who made this film thought that we would think that would be cool. Or laugh at how dumb it is.
These first few minutes pretty much set the tone for the entire film. It’s anachronistic to the extreme, with historical figures and concepts from every era in American history showing up with no explanation. Lincoln’s funeral alone had Dr. King, JFK, and the Roosevelt President’s in attendance. This isn’t a new concept in pop culture, though. Plenty of hit films have used anachronism in the past. However, the main problem is most of those films can get away with it because they usually invoke the ‘rule of funny’. If people find something hilarious, then they won’t care if defies the period of time it takes place in, or even the laws of physics. But there are so many jokes and pop culture references crammed into America: The Motion Picture that it’s not really funny.
How Did It Go So Wrong?
After watching America: The Motion Picture, there was one big question that I had: how did it go so wrong? The sheer level of talent that worked on this film should’ve kept it from messing up this badly.
Firstly, we have the producers who worked on this film. America: The Motion Picture had Phil Lord and Chris Miller among the people producing it. As previously mentioned, they’ve either directed or produced a lot of hit films, the most recent of which being The Mitchell’s Vs The Machines. In addition, the film also had Adam Reed and Matt Thompson as producers. Both of these men are known for their work on Archer, the popular adult cartoon on FX; Adam himself is actually the creator of the series and voices one of the main characters. That show is well-known for mocking the spy film genre, but also makes frequent use of anachronistic storytelling to suit its needs. With them on board, America: The Motion Picture shouldn’t have had such a big problem with everything.
In addition, it’s not like the film was lacking acting talent. It had Jason Mantzoukas as Samuel Adams, and that guy played Rex Splode in Invincible. They had Saturday Night Live alumni Andy Samberg and Bobby Moynihan play Benedict Arnold and Paul Revere. The latter of them voiced Louie Duck in the DuckTales! reboot. Heck, Archer veteran Judy Greer played Martha Washington.
With all this talent, how did America: The Motion Picture fail so badly?
They Forgot a Core Message
One of the secrets to making a great parody, spoof, or satire of something is that there has to be a point behind it. Making fun of something is enjoyable, but without a clear message to tell, then that kind of film is only being offensive or ridiculous for the sake of it.
Take Team America: World Police, for example. Released in 2004, this puppet-based film was the brainchild of Matt Stone and Trey Parker, AKA the men behind the infamous South Park. As expected, they used the film to bash everything they could that was relevant at the time. From the threat of terrorism to America’s zeal to bring them down, and the collateral damage that came about as a result, to both sides of the argument for war and peace, nothing was off-limits. But at the end of the film, the main character gives this very impressive speech that summed up America’s place in the world. And not only was it poignant, but it was also incredibly silly.
The message the filmmakers are saying is clear: yes, America sometimes screws over people without meaning to, and needs to be called on that. However, sometimes there are jerks out there who just want to hurt other people and need to be taken care of. A clear point to be made. America: the Motion Picture, though? It has no such message. The closest it has to one is when an army of Americans of multiple backgrounds comes together to fight the British. But then, the film ends with everyone fighting over what they want America to be like. It goes from admiring the unity that can bring America together to reminding us how the reality is so different.
America: The Motion Picture is a Pass
To its credit, America: The Motion Picture has some redeeming qualities in the form of its cast. However, that’s not enough to change the cold, hard truth. This film was trying so hard to provoke and make its audience think, but it got so caught up in all the references and violence that it fails.
Unless you’re willing to stomach the bad humor for the sake of seeing a gender-bent Edison fly into battle like Iron Man against AT-AT’s modeled after double-decker buses, then I’d give this film a hard pass. Go spend the Fourth of July watching a film like Independence Day, Air Force One, or the Captain America films.