Yesterday, some of the media and delegates to the Republican National Convention attended an advance, rough-cut screening of An American Carol, the new comedy by David Zucker with a decidedly conservative slant. The maker of Airplane uses the Charles Dickens framework to skewer Michael Moore and the Left in a broad and uneven farce, with the usual hits and misses of such films. Stars Kevin Farley, Jon Voight, Robert Davi, and producers Zucker and Myrna Sokoloff were on hand for the launch.
When looking at a rough cut, one has to take into consideration the fact that the finished product may look significantly different. From what I saw, the timing will need to get tightened, and some dialogue spaced out better in order to keep laughter from stepping on punch lines. With that said, the movie seemed to go over well enough with the audience, but significant laugh gaps remain, even with an audience as sympathetic as yesterday’s.
Farley plays Michael Malone, a documentarian who wants to abolish the Fourth of July. Terrorists, led by Davi, want to use him as a dupe to stage a terrorist attack on Madison Square Garden. His nephew Josh is about to deploy as a naval officer to the Persian Gulf, and Malone won’t come to the family celebration of Independence Day. Three spirits visit Malone: the ghost of General Patton (Kelsey Grammar), George Washington (Voight), and the Angel of Death (country-music star Trace Adkins). Malone eventually learns his lesson but takes a lot of abuse along the way, especially from Bill O’Reilly, who plays himself and looks like he’s having a lot of fun doing so.
Conservatives get some red-meat lines in the movie, which prompted cheers from the audience. Leslie Nielsen defines a college protest as “students who don’t know anything, repeating it loudly”. Malone gets slapped repeatedly by Patton, as well as by JFK and Bill O’Reilly. When JFK exasperatedly calls Malone “a douchebag”, it brought the house down. Inter-service rivalry provided a series of laughs at the finale.
However, Zucker’s joke that the unfinished movie didn’t yet have the jokes put it at times appeared true. The wraparound for the movie is Leslie Nielsen telling the story to his grandchildren, but that didn’t really seem to work well. The ACLU sequence seemed over the top with violence, and I imagine it will get a lot of protests … from the ACLU, so the intended audience probably won’t care. Dennis Hopper had a lot of fun in a cameo for that bit, but the funniest moment was a throwaway background shot immediately afterwards.
The performances were good, especially Davi, who provided a malevolent presence throughout the film. Farley did well, as did Grammar as Patton, and Voight did an excellent job with Washington, which was far too brief an interlude. James Woods did a cameo turn as Malone’s agent. As an actor, Trace Adkins makes a great singer, but he does deliver at least one good laugh.
After the movie finished, Farley introduced everyone but first noted that he won the part because “Morgan Freeman didn’t have the necessary gravitas” for the role. Zucker raised a few eyebrows during his closing remarks. Introducing Stephen McEveety, one of the producers of The Passion of the Christ, Zucker noted that McEveety had shown that conservative-oriented films could do great box office. He then joked that Passion was “three hours of Jews beating up God” (Zucker is Jewish, of course), and that it was “a great parable of Hollywood” — which produced gasps, and then nervous laughter.
Somewhat more seriously, Zucker called this film a “passion project”, which he said was a Hollywood term for “a movie no one goes to”. He asked that we get the word out to make sure that people do go to the theater to see the film, and “send a message to Hollywood”.
Of course, one has to make a film that excels to get the kind of box office Passion attracted. I don’t think An American Carol achieves anything near that, at least not in the rough cut. However, it’s got some laughs and provides enough of a novelty from standard Hollywood anti-military fare that it’s worth paying for it at the theaters, at least once. Hopefully, the final version will work a little better.