The conservatives in Hollywood have risen to take a comedic swipe at liberal sentiments in general and the redoubtable, fault-finding, à¼ber -liberal Michael Moore in particular in the An American Carol, starring Kevin P. Farley, brother of the late comedic actor Chris Farley, as documentary filmmaker Michael Malone, Moore’s fictional counterpart. An American Carol is a parody and an update of the Charles Dickens morality tale, A Christmas Carol, with Malone’s character serving as Ebenezer Scrooge.
As America’s favorite self-appointed watchdog and latter-day David, the pugnacious Moore has built a lucrative film career out of going after our country’s most powerful institutions, the modern-day “Goliaths” of the automobile industry, government and the military, the NRA, and most recently the healthcare system . He is the ideal person for knocking off the pedestal. In recent years Moore has come under the scrutiny of several filmmakers intent on debunking his “myth”. Two excellent documentaries, Michael Moore Hates America and Manufacturing Dissent, expose Moore’s own tendency to manipulate the facts to suit his argument and his habit of meticulously setting-up so-called spontaneous moments to illustrate his points. Let not the truth ever get in the way of good storytelling.
Now don’t get me wrong. I happen to like Michael Moore, and nobody could ever call me a conservative. But just because I value his muckraking efforts doesn’t mean I’m blind to his methods. I question his veracity. He has a lot of power; audiences believe him without question. Moore is a pop-cultural institution, and just as he rightly goes after big institutions, he too should be held accountable for the accuracy of his own propaganda.
But I digress.
It seems the war on terror in Afghanistan isn’t going too well for the Taliban. The “infidel” Americans have brought with them hope and now the people want democracy. Terrorist leader Aziz (Robert Davi) fears that western ideals are ruining his country. His band of inept cohorts, most of whom answer to Mohammed Hussein, are unaware they’ve been conscripted as suicide bombers. As his two sidekicks Mohammad and Ahmed tell him, “It’s getting harder and harder to find suicide bombers that are really good, and those that are, are gone.” They think it’s time to remake their terrorist recruiting video. “We need a Hollywood director. One who hates America . . .who really hates America.” Enter Michael Malone.
A shamelessly self-promoting documentary filmmaker, Malone’s convinced there is no terrorist threat. His Movealong.org films Die You American Pigs, Shame on You America, and American Sucks the Big One have bored and angered more than a few people in Hollywood. He decides it’s time to do a feature film, Fascist America. “It’s a powerful drama about oppressed people adrift in world gone mad. It is anti everything America stands for without technically being anti-American.” But his agent (a nice turn by James Woods) instantly deflates his bubble: “Nobody likes to see Americans get screwed by foreigners except in porn.” Especially in a movie made by a man planning an anti-military, Abolish the Fourth of July peace rally.
A Marine, nephew Josh extends an invitation to his uncle Michael to attend the family’s Fourth of July barbecue. Malone is embarrassed in front of his staff by his association through Josh to the military . He can’t even remember the name of his nephew’s son, little Timmy. “How little Jimmy?”
Later, Malone gets a chance to make his movie, bankrolled by none other than Mohammed and Ahmed as agents to the terrorist leader Aziz, who himself plans to blow up Madison Square Garden on the night of the Trace Adkins concert. This is the last straw.
Having gone down the road of anti-American sentiment for far too long, Malone is ripe for an Ebenezer Scrooge-like conversion. He is visited by the “Jacob Marley” character of John F. Kennedy (Chriss Anglin) who compels him to redeem himself. He will be visited in the night by three spirits, General George S. Patton (Kelsey Grammer), George Washington (Jon Voight) and Trace Adkins as himself.
Co-written and directed by David Zucker, the humor in An American Carol is in the broad, slapstick tradition of Airplane!, also co-written and co-directed by Zucker. This movie, though, doesn’t live up to that hysterically funny movie. It’s a pedestrian effort at best, the comedic hi-jinks more strained and forced than funny. An American Carol just tries too hard.
Some bright spots do shine through the dull proceedings. There are several genuinely funny, laugh-out-loud moments, one of which involves Bill O’Reilly interviewing Malone and an appropriately annoying Rosie O’Donnell (“Rosie O’Connell” played pitch perfect by Vicki Browne). Yet another pokes fun at the ACLU in an over-the-top courtroom scene. And last but not least, Adkins, as the Angel of Death, takes Malone on a tour of the future Hollywood, now called Bin Laden City since America lost the war on terror. Imagine a leggy model sporting a burqa mini dress in a billboard ad for Victoria’s Burqa.
The film boasts a nice cast that would have been better served if they used their talents elsewhere. Farley comes across strong in his portrayal of the perpetually unkempt (and unwashed?) Moore. He brings a lot of the attributes his brother Chris possessed that made him so popular with his fans. Kevin P. Farley definitely has a future as a comedic actor. Kelsey Grammer comes across as pompous and ramrod straight as we might imagine Patton to have been in real life and Jon Voight lends an air of dignity to the show in his portrayal of Washington. Davi, on the other hand, looks like he’d rather be somewhere else. The very talented, though underappreciated Grier is wasted in an embarrassing slavery sequence. And Leslie Nielsen seems completely out of place despite the fact that this material is right up his alley. I hate to say that because I love the guy.
Despite its successful moments, there still isn’t enough in An American Carol for me to recommend it. You can definitely give this one a miss. But I can at least say that in going so aggressively after Moore and the liberal establishment, David Zucker, whether intentionally or no, manages to skewer the conservatives as well. And that’s a good thing.