Our country has never been more polarized, and facts have never been as important as they are now. But despite our differences, we should all be able to come together with pride to denounce that the new, R-rated, raunchy, gory, silly "America: The Motion Picture" tries way too hard at pretty much everything it attempts to do.
This might be the revisionist history we deserve, but it's more of a missed opportunity.
As the trailer proudly boasts, this film comes from the creative team behind such animated TV fare such as "Archer" and "Dicktown," with first-time director, Matt Thompson at the helm. The script is from Dave Callaham, an in-demand writer whose built his career on implausible pulp fiction, responsible for "The Expendables" movies, the TV series "Jean-Claude Van Johnson" and most recently "Wonder Woman 1984" and "Mortal Kombat" (he's also the scribe on two upcoming Marvel movies, "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" as well as "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 2").
"America: The Motion Picture" leans in to the recent onslaught of falsehoods that has overwhelmed our country in recent years, a concept which seems like a ripe area for satire. It tells the history of our country, and gives itself complete creative freedom to retell our origins as it sees fit. After Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte) has his head lobbed off in the Ford Theater by a traitorous Benedict Arnold (Andy Samberg), George Washington (Channing Tatum) is tasked with saving our country from the British tyrants led by King James (Simon Pegg), whose troops are now on our doorstep.
He puts together a super-group of American heroes, the beer-guzzling Samuel Adams (Jason Mantzoukas), Native American hero Geronimo (Raoul Max Trujillo), Paul Revere (Bobby Moynihan), and Thomas Edison, who is now an Asian woman (voiced by Olivia Munn). The film also features Martha Dandridge (Judy Greer), Blacksmith (Killer Mike), Babe the Blue OX (Lucky Yates) and pretty much every single other American folk hero you can think of. They assemble, with chainsaws and machine guns, and eventually it seems totally normal when Paul Bunyan fights the Big Ben clock tower in a battle to the death.
"You're George Washington right, the guy who invented peanut butter?" one person asks. "Yes I am," Washington says back. Of course the inventor of peanut butter was George Washington Carver, but this is the sort of looseness that "America: The Motion Picture" looks to capitalize on and finds most of its humor.
Admittedly, some of the brashness grows on you as the film becomes more and more absurd. But for every clever observation or twist that the film delivers of our collective history, it seems to always take the lowest-hanging fruit. It's exploitative in its use of ultra-violence and it has this sort of "Beavis & Butthead"-level intellect (without the charm of that show), where it's just funny to hear animated characters swear and say the F-bomb repeatedly without any real comedic reasoning.
If half of the energy used on the film's low-brow humor was channeled towards real-world satire, it could have been quite the achievement. Instead "America: The Motion Picture" is devoid of any distinguishable purpose. It's destined to become a legendary cult film for fraternity bros who will find themselves giggling at the pure stupidity of it all, but it misses a great chance to offer sharp commentary on the country that it is lampooning.
No, not every film needs to have deeper meaning, but if you aim low you should at least hit your target. "America: The Motion Picture" isn't funny enough to sustain itself as pure entertainment. If it were any worse it may be insulting, but instead of the Founding Fathers rolling over in their graves, "America: The Motion Picture" is more likely to insight yawns.
Genre: Animation, Action, Adventure, Comedy.
Run Time: 1 hour 38 minutes.
Starring (voices of): Channing Tatum, Simon Pegg, Judy Greer, Bobby Moynihan, Olivia Munn, Killer Mike, Will Forte, Jason Mantzoukas, Andy Samberg.
Written by Dave Callaham ("Mortal Kombat (2021)," "Wonder Woman 1984," "The Expendables").
Directed by Matt Thompson (feature-film debut).
"America: The Motion Picture" is on Netflix on Wednesday, June 30th, 2021.
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