Dumb and dumber
America: The Motion Picture
As Fourth of July celebrations go, the Netflix animated film America: The Motion Picture is the cinematic equivalent of a three-foot-long hot dog followed by a triple-fried Twinkie washed down by a keg of lukewarm beer.
Sporadically clever but mostly just lazy, director Matt Thompson's gory and anachronistic retelling of The American Revolution follows a George Washington (voice of Channing Tatum) so brawny he'd give a Reagan-era Arnold Schwarzenegger body-image issues. Oh, and he's chasing a werewolf Benedict Arnold (Andy Samberg) with the help of a group of misfit Founding Fathers and his own chainsaw hands (picture Wolverine, but with cherry tree destroyers).
The gulf between stupid-smart and just plain stupid feels vast when watching America: The Motion Picture, which is clearly aiming for the former but lands squarely in the latter. Thompson is an executive producer on FXX'S James Bond parody Archer, which in its early years exemplified stupid-smart comedy with its exuberantly inconsequential missions.
Making a doomed Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte) Washington's best bud, Thompson and writer Dave Callaham (Zombieland: Double Tap) bring that middle finger to historical fidelity here, to piffling effect.
The one element that's not as obvious as the future Mrs. Washington's (Judy Greer) balloon breasts is how tongue-in-cheek the script's heavy reliance on formula is supposed to be. There are quite a few character-developing reveals (taking them from paperthin to puddle-deep), but each step in the plot is about as preordained as videos of fireworks mishaps uploaded to Youtube on the morning of July 5.
After a lupine Benedict Arnold rips out Lincoln's throat at Ford's Theatre — Old Faithful should really be named after those compulsory geysers of blood — Washington vows to avenge his friend's death and fulfil his dying wish of founding a new country called America. (Why would Lincoln want this? Why would you expect this movie to answer that question?) Washington first enlists a fratty Samuel Adams (Jason Mantzoukas) in his fight against the redcoats, though he isn't sure whether the country he wants to bring into existence should be hospitable to anyone other than rich white men.
Joining the duo are a weirdly horny Paul Revere (Bobby Moynihan, delivering the stacked voice cast's only noteworthy performance); a science-championing Thomas Edison (Olivia Munn); and a reluctant but resigned Geronimo (Raoul Max Trujillo), who hopes the new country will restore some of the colonists' land back to the original inhabitants.
I'm inclined to think Thompson and Callaham set out to make their plot predictable, if only so the film's surprises pop that much more. But that gives us little reason to care about the storyline, which involves the phrase “teabagging” because it's set in the 1770s (-ish), and because low-hanging fruit is this America's chief export. I did laugh at the repurposing of the term “racist” in this universe, which has more to do with horses than white supremacy, but the joke (repeated seemingly half a dozen times) also emphasizes how gracelessly the movie balances its desire to pay tribute to the Founding Fathers' democratic ideals with their extremely limited views on who should be able to pursue or exercise them.
For a narrow slice of the nation's demographic, though, America: The Motion Picture could inspire a new tradition: Smash a beer can on one's forehead and argue with a friend about who is the more patriotic figure: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, or George Washington, Chain-saw Hands.