America: The Motion Picture is a dopey, dated take-down of American exceptionalism that occasionally hits its target.
America: The Motion Picture, the debut feature from Frisky Dingo and Sealab 2021 co-creator Matt Thompson, is an alternate history retelling of the American Revolution. Sure, every major figure in American history is alive at the same time, George Washington has chainsaws attached to his hands, and Benedict Arnold, the film’s primary antagonist, is a werewolf, but the basic premise stands: the British (or “the fun police,” take your pick) are really harshing the colonists’ vibe and must be defeated so a new nation can be established. That was, after all, the dying wish of Washington’s lifelong best friend Abraham Lincoln before he succumbed to werewolf-inflicted wounds. If any of this sounds funny to you, then maybe the rest of the film holds up to scrutiny, but for anyone not on its idiotic wavelength, America can be excruciating.
Here’s an accounting of all the different types of jokes in this film: anachronism (George Washington and Sam Adams are joined by Thomas Edison, in this reality an Asian woman, and Geronimo), references, most obviously and especially to Star Wars, light jabs at rich white men, and satirizing the dude-bro attitude of Americans, embodied here most in Washington and Adams. That last bit makes up much of the movie, and represents its largest problem. Thompson’s route toward satirizing frat-guy obnoxiousness is to dive in headfirst and put it on display at maximum volume, at once asking the audience to laugh at and with Sam Adams’ beer-fueled crassness. The result is a satire of wrongheaded, apparently specific American attitudes that doubles as a celebration of the same and makes for a tough sit. Worse, the film’s general perspective and sense of humor on the subject were already Internet ancient by the beginning of the last decade, and rarely does a joke in America scan as anything other than a regurgitated tweet or meme from 11 years ago. To his credit, Thompson has spared us any bacon-related humor, which seems forthcoming at all moments of the film.
America‘s not much better when it shifts gears, either, but it’s at least cogent and targeted when it’s using Geronimo or a Black blacksmith voiced by Killer Mike as a mouthpiece to point out real systemic injustice. After a debacle in a bar named Vietnam, Sam Adams insists that they won, leading Geronimo and the blacksmith to privately make fun of the privileged attitude that would lead a white American, so used to winning his whole life, to claim victory in Vietnam. And throughout, the white colonists’ grievance with taxation is repeatedly squared up against the actual crimes against humanity committed against African slaves and Indigenous peoples. After George Washington rallies all Americans to battle with a rendition of “Freebird” and fires a load of AR-15s at the British army, a new nation is born and quickly devolves into sectarian, racist infighting. America doesn’t have anything new to say or a means to expand on what it is saying — these are basic truths anyone can learn by spending an hour on Twitter — but packaging them in a dopey cartoon filled with outrageous violence and beer jokes is very much the point here. It’s similar to what Lin-Manuel Miranda claims Hamilton is, selling a message by wrapping it in a maximalist form palatable to its audience, only America: The Motion Picture is much more trenchant than Miranda’s ballyhooed musical, if only for voicing what Hamilton doesn’t dare speak. It’s a low bar, but at least there’s that.
You can currently stream Matt Thompson’s America: The Motion Picture on Netflix.