Let’s take back our popular culture by offing the reality-TV stars, hate-spewing commentators and other cretins who have rendered it cruel, crass and stupid.
That’s the fantasy driving the splattery action in Bobcat Goldthwait’s black comedy, “God Bless America.” Goldthwait serves up some juicy depravity, but he’s working with a morsel of a premise. As his protagonists keep killing idiots and discourteous technology users, he can’t sustain the steam.
Goldthwait’s films — including “Shakes the Clown,” “Sleeping Dogs Lie” and “World’s Greatest Dad” — are dark, different and nervy. Echoing those, “God Bless” mixes wickedness with sweetness and explores viable themes: midlife disappointment, wretched offspring and people behaving reprehensibly in an attempt to feel validated.
This time, the results are again distinctive and often funny, but the outrageousness overshadows crucial humanity.
Part crime-spree road tale and part mad-as-hell actioner, the film begins in Syracuse, N.Y., where protagonist Frank (Joel Murray), an office drone, loses his job, learns his ex-wife is remarrying, gets the brush-off from his bratty young daughter and receives a brain tumor diagnosis.
Contemplating suicide, Frank decides to first rid the world of somebody particularly abhorrent — a spoiled, shallow, reality show teen.
His messy deed is witnessed, and commended, by the victim’s classmate Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr). Bonding over shared cultural tastes, Frank and Roxy become “platonic spree killers.” Their victims include a famous right-wing maniac and thoughtless cellphone users in movie audiences.
Things begin strongly. An opening scene in which Frank fantasizes about blowing away his obnoxious, reality-TV-addicted neighbors (and their noisy baby) affirms Goldthwait’s status as a filmmaker who may never go soft.
But this is basically a one-joke ride.
Frank and Roxy kill repellent people, discuss who they think deserves to die and kill again. Though Barr and Murray supply oomph, their characters’ emotional connection resonates weakly.
Murray — whose Frank initially brings to mind the Coen brothers’ “A Serious Man” protagonist Larry Gopnik, then becomes Howard Beale, and then Travis Bickle — conveys intriguing sadness but has little opportunity to delve into the emotion.
Also problematic is a failure to address ironies. Unlike 1995’s “The Last Supper,” the film doesn’t acknowledge that its murderous characters increasingly resemble the people they deem death-worthy.
Frank hates fame-seekers, but delivers his big speech into a camera. Roxy, who thinks “Juno” screenwriter Diablo Cody should die, is herself a Juno-like concoction.
In sum, Goldthwait fans should find enough to embrace here, but the movie’s a misfire from a filmmaker who’s previously proven stellar.
Movie Review: God Bless America ★★½
Starring Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr
Written and directed by
Running time 1 hour, 44 minutes