From first time director Matt Thompson comes America: The Motion Picture: an R-rated, wilfully historically inaccurate run through the founding of the United States. Though Thompson is new to features, the pedigree here comes from the presence of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie) as producers.
At first glance, this feels like a Lord and Miller production: profane and irreverent humour, with plenty of violence, a sex scene, and an animation style which evokes Archer. The cast is strong, with Channing Tatum as George Washington, Jason Mantzoukis as Samuel Adams, Olivia Munn as a female Thomas Edison (kind of a mixture of Iron Man and Dr Doom in execution), Simon Pegg as the King of England and Judy Greer as Martha Washington.
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So, in this telling, the signing of Declaration of Independence turns into a massacre when turncoat Benedict Arnold (Andy Samberg) leads British troops into the room to attack the signatories. When Abraham Lincoln is killed in the incident (yes, that’s the Abraham Lincoln who was president around 85 years later), George Washington vows revenge. From there he meets up with Edison (who is a science-focused superhero figure, who can wield electricity to kill) and Adams (effectively, a loud-mouthed frat boy, with just a hint of Wolverine about his visual depiction), as they go on sort-of a road trip, meeting up with Geronimo (a lone biker in the Machete vein). This is a promising, if deeply silly, premise.
The first problem with the film is that it is overwhelmingly loud for much of its running time. Action is frequent and ear-splitting, and Mantzoukis – so funny on the How Did This Get Made podcast – is shouting constantly, to the point that it would be fair to guess most viewers will be begging for a break relatively early in proceedings. At least the plot moves along quickly, with its 98 minutes having little down time.
The second, fatal problem for the film is that it is simply not funny. To be more specific about this, it evokes those 90s and 2000s Epic Movie and Date Movie-type offerings in seeming to believe that merely pointing to the existence of something is both satirical and hilarious. Hence, we have street races that evoke the Fast Franchise, right down to rap music and slow motion dancing; a reference to The Transporter, with a Jason Statham clone piloting the carriage carrying Arnold. In fact, by the time the title card for the film comes up at around 11 minutes in, the movie is already wearing out its welcome.
If there is one relatively recent work that this film evokes it would be Holmes and Watson. Loud, brash, and pointing to the existence of things as its sole attempt at humour, that film had an anachronistic appearance for the Titanic – and we get exactly the same here. An in-film movie theatre is showing “Full Metal Musket” and “Locomotive Spotting”, and the concession stand inside is named “John Wilkes’ Merch Booth”. This is desperate stuff, with an appearance from “Red, White and Blue Man Group” just about finishing off any hopes that this film will raise even a smile. Paul Revere is an ugly, Quasimodo/Mongo from Blazing Saddles-style character – an obnoxious choice, to say the least. All of this is building to a final battle at the Gettysburg address – which, in this telling, is an actual street address. With a final battle that plays as a mix of Return of the King, Mortal Engines and Avengers: Endgame, the team work to put a silver bullet into Arnold, who, it turns out, is also a werewolf.
America: The Motion Picture is scattergun, lazy, and lacking in any focus, all accompanied by a cast of characters – particularly Sam Adams – that cannot stop shouting. It is hard to see at who this is aimed. The sex and violence alone takes it into the adult market, but the weak sight gags, and poor, juvenile dialogue is something that few of the adults who enjoyed, say, Archer, will like. This is the weakest mainstream comedy to hit British screens in some time. That this involves Lord and Miller, along with a strong voice cast, is perhaps the most disappointing aspect, and a factor that will draw in a large number of viewers who will, it is almost certain, be deeply disappointed with the end result.
America: The Motion Picture is out now on Netflix.