America: The Motion Picture
Another short review this week, as NFB comes back into the swing of things after annual leave and a first vaccine shot.
Following a deadly betrayal, heroic George Washington (Channing Tatum) is left bereft, before a greater destiny opens up ahead of him. Assembling a crack team – fratboy Sam Adams (Jason Mantzoukas), genius inventor Thomas Edison (Olivia Munn), expert horse rider Paul Revere (Bobby Moynihan) and Native American chief Geronimo (Raoul Max Trujillo) – Washington aims to take down the evil King James (Simon Pegg) and secure American freedom, but will have to face the danger of half man, half wolf Benedict Arnold (Andy Samberg).
So, if you have made it past the summation that I wrote out above, you’ll have gotten an idea for what America: The Motion Picture is, which is a completely irreverent, logicless pisstake of American history, with as many bizarre randomness, breakings of the fourth wall and as much douchebro humour as it can possibly hold. And, God help me, I was excited to see it, because it’s another Phil Lord/Christopher Miller production but more because it is the directorial debut of Matt Thompson, who has kept me chuckling for a long time now, between Sealab 2021, Frisky Dingo and Archer. His is a style of humour that I have always enjoyed in terms of adult-orientated animation, and a big-screen version certainly caught the eye.
I’m conscious of the amount of negativity that this film has managed to garner, but I really do feel that it is a case of wrong film for the wrong audience. If you are the kind of person who spent a fair proportion of their college years cackling at the concept of “Martian law” or the term “Danger zone”, then I have a sneaking suspicious that you will find plenty in America: The Motion Picture to like. The same kind of humour abounds all over it, a sort of eclectic mix of quips, parody, grossout and zaniness that I have always found it just a little difficult to not laugh at. Thompson cleaves more to the Sealab side of things here in how there isn’t really much of a coherent plot or a universe with rules – the British Empire literally employs AT-AT walkers in the form of London Buses at the conclusion here, while elsewhere George Washington does a shot-for-shot remake of the infamous hacking scene of Swordfish – and I can understand why this would grate with a lot of people, but I liked it.
Things move so fast and stretch the bounds of credibility so completely that it’s hard to keep up with America: The Motion Picture, as it throws a new joke or new visual yuck at you every ten seconds, nearly all of them nonsensical to some degree. The voice cast does a pretty good job here, clearly having fun with the material, with Tatum cementing himself as a bit of a all-rounder, now able to add VA to his not unimpressive back catalogue (his Washington carries a lot of Jump Street energy). Others around him, not least Samberg (who really goes all-in on a concept as ridiculous as a werewolf Benedict Arnold) are also clearly having a ball. The animation is crisp and, in line withe visual yucks mentioned, rather inventive at times (especially when it comes to gore, which is frequent). Moreover, I do think the film is genuinely funny, whether it’s being off-the-wall like it is for most of it, or a little insightful (the film’s finale, where George Washington confronts modern day racial tensions, the healthcare crisis and religious fundamentalism, is quite brilliant).
Your tolerance for the kind of humour that the film is trying to throw at you in such a manic, pell-mell, fashion will largely determine whether this is worth checking out. I can only say that if you are the sort of guy who still laughs at lines as seemingly banal as “Do you want ants? Because that’s how you get ants!” then you will probably we right at home here. If not, you’ll be lost and confused. I’m firmly in the first category. I guess it’ll have to be a partial recommend then.
(All images are copyright of Netflix).