CAST: Channing Tatum, Simon Pegg, Judy Greer, Bobby Moynihan, Olivia Munn, Andy Samberg, Jason Mantzoukas, Will Forte, Amber Nash, Lucky Yates, Raoul Max Trujillo, Killer Mike, Dave Callaham, Kevin Gillese, Z. Gillispie, Megan Leahy, Mike Schatz, Christian Danley, Cris Gray, Iyad Hajjaj
RUNNING TIME: 98 mins
BASICALLY…: George Washington (Tatum) and his band of patriots face off against the British Army in the Revolutionary War…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
America: The Motion Picture is, quite possibly, the most American movie ever made – and that’s not exactly a compliment.
The adult animated comedy, which boasts talent like Phil Lord and Christopher Miller as producers (alongside Archer creator Adam Reed), is packed to the rafters with over-the-top patriotism, with every pure-blood American either built like Arnold Schwarzenegger or proudly declaring their love for their country at every available opportunity. It is also stuffed with absolutely insane imagery that combines all areas of pop culture with anachronistic American pastimes like baseball, strip clubs and drinking so much beer, all set during an alternate version of the American Revolutionary War where all of this is suddenly possible.
And yet, for all of its showmanship and all of its blistering patriotism, the movie just doesn’t work. It’s not that it’s unambitious, because nobody who could come up with half the stuff in this movie can be accused of doing a half-assed job, but for something that relies quite heavily on its own irreverence and tongue-in-cheek attitude to get by, it isn’t very funny or even that fun to watch. Instead, it brings out a much more obnoxious and unpleasant side to American culture, which given the talent involved should have been easy to avoid.
As stated, the movie takes place during the American Revolutionary War, but an extremely loose version of it; in that, everyone speaks in modern lingo, there are references to current things like the Internet and hashtags, and historical figures from all timelines just seem to exist alongside one another. For instance, George Washington (voiced by Channing Tatum) is best friends with Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte), who is killed by turncoat Benedict Arnold (Andy Samberg) who so happens to also be a werewolf. Washington then vows to avenge his fallen bro by assembling a brand-new team of bros to fight the British Army, as led by Arnold and King James (Simon Pegg). Washington’s recruits include beer-guzzling frat boy Sam Adams (Jason Mantzoukas), socially-awkward horse rider Paul Revere (Bobby Moynihan), a female and Asian version of famed scientist Thomas Edison (Olivia Munn), pissed-off Native tracker Geronimo (Raoul Max Trujillo) and blacksmith – the wordplay for which does serve as a joke at this character’s expense, if you must know – John Henry (Killer Mike).
From the word “go”, America: The Motion Picture revels in far too much chaos. It’s one thing to have 2D-animated characters drop the f-bomb every few seconds and also commit mass murder or bed impossibly buxom women – George Washington’s wife Martha (Judy Greer) is somehow this young attractive vixen with huge breasts and an hourglass figure – but to have it be constant all throughout, to a point where you almost have to beg the film to slow the hell down so you can catch your breath, is far more difficult to accept. The movie – or more specifically, its script as provided by Dave Callaham, whose previous credits including The Expendables, Zombieland: Double Tap and Wonder Woman 1984 – throws so much into the pot all at once, whether it’s all the anachronistic designs or the modern references to everything from Fast & Furious, John Wick, Robocop, Star Wars and so on, that it concocts this bizarre and excessive fever dream that has no sense of logic or even heart; never mind too many cooks spoiling the broth, this dish is tainted by too many ingredients.
Because it is so constant in how it is rapidly introducing new elements of this crazy universe, you find yourself exhausted by the end of the first act, and then remorseful because there’s at least another hour or so to go of it. By then, there hasn’t been much to pull you in anyway, because its humour and characters feel very juvenile and often obnoxious; many of the gags in this feel like they were the result of a bunch of drunken college frat boys coming together to write their own version of Drunk History, because a lot of them rely on obvious word-play and random dick jokes, while giving most of its characters very broad and super-patriotic dialogue that makes them come across as douched-up shells rather than actual people, even in this heavily exaggerated cartoon universe. If anything, this whole movie is like a perverted twelve-year-old playing with his collection of historical action figures, not so much like Lord and Miller’s far more engaging LEGO Movie but more akin to Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, although America: The Motion Picture is perhaps slightly easier to stomach than a lot of those films.
Had this been a much funnier and smarter script, this could have really been one of those bonkers movies that could have found a much more appreciative audience. The film does have good animation – a similar style to that of Archer but far slicker and not quite as Flash animation-like – and some of the voice acting is also rather strong in parts (I seriously had no idea that Andy Samberg was in this until his name popped up in the end credits, because he really does not sound like his usual self in the role that he plays), but all of that is wasted on a script that indulges in far too much excess and dated frat-boy humour to really fulfil its destiny as this cult-classic in the making.
In a way, though, America: The Motion Picture is the patriotic mess we all deserve, seeing how screwy (to put it mildly) a lot of American politics and policies have been over the last few years. Sure, things are picking up now that certain people are out of power, but since it doesn’t look like America isn’t going to stop being so, well, American for quite some time, it’s of little wonder why movies like this exist to show the world how bizarre patriotism can be right now.
SO, TO SUM UP…
America: The Motion Picture is a chaotic, often exhausting mess which could have worked as a much smarter and funnier satire of American patriotism if it weren’t for a script laden with excessive mindlessness and frat-boy humour which undermines any satirical point it tries to make.