Bobcat Goldthwait did a hell of a lot of promoting for his film, God Bless America, which has been entertaining to see. Having retired from stand-up comedy nearly a decade ago, with his eyes set on being a filmmaker, he’s since made some interesting (and quite good) dark comedies; including Sleeping Dogs Lie and World’s Greatest Dad (Robin Williams is great in that movie). I like Bobcat Goldthwait. Listening to him now, he is very honest, funny, and brash in a good sort of way. It is unfortunate that God Bless America is not a better film. It certainly has a lot on its mind in regards to the state of America’s fascination with reality television, among other things, but the film does not come together as strongly as it could. Revisiting it now and after hearing more of what Goldthwait had to say, I still think it is worthy of a recommendation and the Blu-ray is certainly solid.
The film stars Joel Murray as the ever-embittered Frank. That may be a bit strong. Frank has been having it rough dealing with what the rest of the country seems to enjoy. We get a glimpse of all the nonsense Frank tries to avoid, as he skips through a bunch of reality TV shows (not too far removed from ones that actually exist), while up late due to his annoying neighbors putting in no effort to keep their baby quiet. During one terrible day, we see the extent of what Frank puts up with. On this day, Frank first tries to deal with his ex-wife and his spoiled daughter, who wants no involvement with her father, because he is poor. Later, after ranting about how stupid reality television is, Frank is fired from his job and diagnosed with a brain tumor. As I said, it is a terrible day. After Frank arrives back at home, he decides that maybe suicide is his only escape.
Before pulling the trigger, however, Frank makes a decision. In the process of planning to kill himself, Frank had the television on and watched another reality show where a teenager threw a tantrum because her parents would not get her exactly what she wanted. Figuring that he has nothing to lose, Frank decides to steel his neighbor’s sports car and drive hundreds of miles to kill this teenage girl, before killing himself. Frank succeeds in the first part of this plan (with some bumbling in the process), but before he kills himself, he is interrupted by Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr); a teenage girl who saw what Frank did. She thinks he could do more “good” by taking out other “not so good” people, and bring her along to help. Therefore, the two set out on a bizarre road trip/killing spree across the country.
The problem with this movie is how it does not really settle on anything, as opposed to simply providing sequences where characters can openly rant about what they hate about society in general. Goldthwait, who wrote and directed this film, seems to clearly enjoy having a platform of sorts to really go into why he finds reality television and a lot of what goes on in American pop culture to be insipid and dumb. Unfortunately, the film just feels like many various rants, with obvious setup for when these rants will occur. Goldthwait’s past films have tended to start out with some key ideas, only to reveal themselves as something more introspective. God Bless America does not really get to that place. It just continues along the same path for the duration of its runtime. However, it does help that, despite being a series of rants and murdering mayhem, they are entertaining rants and scenes of murdering mayhem.
While something like Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers may have done what this film has attempted nearly 2 decades ago, there still is a sort of twisted joy in seeing a deranged couple (they’re friends, nothing more) go off and provide a kind of sick wish fulfillment of having obnoxious and mean people get a comeuppance of sorts. I am of course not in support of murdering people because I do not like them or am annoyed by them, but in the realm that this film exists, there are some funny, exaggerated sequences that depict this. ‘Exaggerated’ is a good term to stick with too, because this film really does not exist in a real life sort of world. It is exists because of a convenient screenplay, as opposed to being something grounded in reality, which is to both the film’s benefit and its detriment.
It helps that the two main performances are quite good. Joel Murray does a great job at embodying a man who does not necessarily think he is better than anyone is, but does feel he has the right to speak against the stupidity of a lot of what the country seems to enjoy. This role could have been played with a much darker cynicism that would have sucked the fun out of this movie, but Murray’s take on the performance does well at combining his sad sack nature with an angry, but likably warm presence. There could have been more development for Roxy’s character, but at least Tara Lynne Barr’s performance brings a fun character for Frank to interact with. Combining that with her psychotic pleasure that she gets from offing the idiots and hate-filled folk of the country (which is encapsulated just as much in her grin as it is in her actions) allows the movie to at least move along at a breezy pace.
The other movie I could refer to, which this film may owe a bit to, is perhaps one of the best films from Joel Schumacher, Falling Down, with Michael Douglas as a man who goes on a violent rampage during particularly hot day in Los Angeles. That film tackles many similar issues, but was better for really delivering on the main character and having the story be about something overall. God Bless America does not quite get there. It has many scattered moments drenched in satire and likes speaking out against things going on in America currently, but it does not really wrap up into a story that completely comes together. It is still a bit of fun; a twisted dark comedy, with a couple memorable moments, but the film does not amount to more than just an average story.
God Bless America comes to Blu-ray with a 1080p AVC-encoded transfer. For a film that was shot digitally and can easily be transferred onto Blu-ray, the video quality is merely fine. Nothing about it was particularly noteworthy, despite having a mix of indoor and outdoor scenes, both during the day and at night. Colors, textures, and backgrounds seem to register properly. That said, appreciating the colors may need to be taken into consideration of the film, as the color palette could either be seen as somewhat unpleasant or purposefully so, given the satirical edge that the film has. It is not quite the sharpest presentation either, with areas of the film that actually seem hazy in some instances. So overall, God Bless America is merely presentable in regards to its video quality, not outstanding.
The Blu-ray is also equipped with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that is as equally adequate as the video transfer. The film has a good mix of audio elements that includes a lot of dialogue, gun shots and other sound effects, and the use of a lot of music. The audio track is up to the challenge of presenting these various elements in a presentable mix, but it also has its share of issues. There are times when the dialogue does not register as clearly as it should. I also felt like various audio elements did not feel as spread across the room as they should have been. Again, it is merely a decent audio track.
I was quite pleased with the assortment of extras here, because they did what was needed – provide entertaining, but informative materials. The fact that all of the extras were presented in HD certainly helped as well.
Audio Commentary with Bobcat Goldthwait, Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr – A very enjoyable listen that goes over the origins of the story, the production, and is full of laughs, as you get to hear from people that clearly had an enjoyable time making the film and like to talk about it.
Behind the Scenes: Killing with Kindness – At nearly a half hour, this is a solid behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film, which goes over just enough of the production process.
God Bless TV: Deleted/Extended Scenes – This is worth it for a very particular fake reality show that Goldthwait has talked about a lot, while promoting the film.
Interviews with Bobcat Goldthwait, Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr – Another enjoyable half hour, which features the director and stars going over why they made the film.
HDNet: A Look at God Bless America
Roxy and Frank Music Video
God Bless America has been described by Bobcat Goldthwait not as a film where psychopaths murder people, fulfilling some kind of personal wish he had himself, but rather a film about going to the extreme of getting back at people who are not very nice. I found there to be an enjoyable film in here, regarding some of how he presented his story, but still found it to be merely average overall. Still, I did like the two leads and was happy to see the Blu-ray expand upon this by having them and Goldthwait be so involved in the extra features. Worth a look for someone who appreciates Goldthwait’s dark sense of humor.