IN THE OPENING moments of "God Bless America" somebody shotguns an infant and the baby's guts end up all over the screaming parents.
It's an obvious "fantasy" sequence, so I guess it's a case of no harm, no foul. Just a joke, ha-ha. Still, the takeaway from the scene is that "God Bless America" is a transgressive, edgy movie that doesn't mind offending you in order to make its point.
And the point? How's this for irony: "God Bless America" is writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait's caustic lament for the coarsening of U.S. culture. The movie is an extended rant, and a bloody one, revealed through a guy named Frank (Joel Murray, Bill's brother), who turns violent when, in a single day, he loses his job, custody of his kid and all hope.
Frank goes on the road with a yellow Charger, a gun and a long list of complaints. His woe-is-us monologues are Goldthwait's forum for griping about the decline of U.S. culture — made manifest in shows like "American Idol," guys like Simon Cowell, Bill O'Reilly and all barking politicos, reality TV, consumerism, and so forth.
There's a lot of "and so forth." It includes the screenwriting of Diablo Cody — incredibly, "GBA" denounces Cody on the grounds that her work reeks of the word-processor. Goldthwait's speechifying here makes Cody look like Mike Leigh (that joke is for film majors only).
"GBA" darkens as Frank starts killing the people who (in his mind) represent America's decline. He acquires an accomplice — a bubbly teen girl (Tara Lynne Barr, stuck on one annoying note) who thinks that what Frank is doing is cool. What follows is a cross-country kill-for-thrill jaunt (equal parts "Paper Moon" and "Falling Down") that ends on the set of an "Idol"-like singing show.
By then, Frank already has killed hate-mongering evangelists, movie-theater loudmouths and bee-stung "real" housewives, and it's all a lot less fun than you might think.
Frank assassinates people for being "mean," but the movie's own misanthropy becomes exhausting.
By the time Goldthwait gets around to drawing a bead on the movie's Simon Cowell stand — in, he has become what he wants to eradicate — another self-appointed arbiter with a quick hook.
You can sympathize with Goldthwait's outrage here, even laugh at some of his jokes, and still wonder whether he's decrying the decline of our culture, or contributing to it. n
Contact movie critic Gary Thompson at 215-854-5992 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "Keep It Reel," at philly.com/keepitreel.
REVIEW | ss
God Bless America
Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. With Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr, Larry Miller, Geoff Peirson, Melinda Page Hamilton. Distributed by magnet.
Running time: 104 minutes
Parent's Guide: R (violence, language)