Warning: if you think “American Idol” is, like, totally the best thing in American music today, that far-right talk-show host Glenn Beck is a prophet and that “Jersey Shore” is about the most fabulicious people evah, the following movie is not, repeat not, for you.
If, however, the mere sight of Simon Cowell or The Beckster makes you want to kick in your TV like Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver,” then “God Bless America” is your kind of film. Comedian-turned-director Bobcat Goldthwait (“Sleeping Dogs Lie”) riffs on much the same material as “Taxi Driver” here — weird middle-aged loner snaps and goes postal — but with a lot more laughs, although frequently of the sick and twisted kind.
“God Bless America” is clearly film as therapy, the kind of movie you make to stay out of jail; acting out on such antisocial impulses in any other way would result in someone dialing 911. Goldthwait looks at modern America’s cultural cesspool — singing competitions where clueless “retards” are relentlessly mocked, crude reality shows that encourage the worst behavior, celebrities famous for their sex-tape escapades, political talk shows spewing hate and intolerance — and despairs. He imagines the real rain that will come and wash the scum off the streets.
Goldthwait’s antihero is Frank, played by Joel Murray (younger brother of Bill), a doughy, insomniac, divorced dude whose life is crap, basically. He spends his sleepless nights channel-surfing through the detritus of American TV, and dreaming of buying a shotgun to blast his noisy, thoughtless neighbors “who decided to give birth to some kind of nocturnal civil-defense air-raid siren that goes off every f-cking night like it’s Pearl Harbor.”
But Frank keeps his homicidal fantasies in check — until he’s laid off and diagnosed with terminal cancer. At that point, he figures what the hell, buys a handgun (a scene straight out of “Taxi Driver”), and decides to take a few of the most deserving bastards down with him. But there are so many to choose from, such as people who use the words “edgy” or “extreme” or “in your face,” people who picket military funerals with “God hates fags!” signs, the Kardashians, the cast of “Glee,” kids who post bullying bitch-slap videos on YouTube, doctors who take cell-phone calls while informing you of a fatal brain tumor. Where does a well-meaning psycho start?
Why, with the loathsome, spoiled-rotten high school mean girl who’s got her own reality program, naturally. His first choice is a good one, as it immediately lands him a partner in spree killing, 16-year-old Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), who shares Frank’s rage at society. Indeed, she even eggs him on to further extremes. The platonic June-December psycho couple has been done recently by “Kick-Ass” and “Super,” but for my money this one’s the cake-taker; it even gives Frank a few choice words about Woody Allen and his predilection for old man/young girl movies.
Goldthwait, who also wrote the script, is at his best creating the little snippets of TV programs that drive Frank nuts: These self-contained parodies are almost indistinguishable from the real thing, such as the sports program intro that roars, “Forget everything you know about bowling — this is bowling, ON STEROIDS!” Goldthwait loads Frank’s role with a number of great rants, though these get a bit didactic toward the end. There’s also the sense that anyone this infuriated by modern pop culture spends way too much time engaging with it, when the TV’s “off” button is a clear option.
To his credit, the director does play up the irony of two people on a crusade to rid the world of mean people by spree killing. When Frank admits he agrees with right-wing loose gun-control laws, Roxy replies with knee-jerk liberal outrage, “Yeah, but then every nut will have a gun!”
You could make the case that Goldthwait exaggerates the extent to which America has descended into the mire, that America hasn’t become as vicious, sick and venal as he imagines. Then you could venture over to the IMDb website and watch every single user-discussion thread of this film descend into name-calling and insults, which is, come to think of it, like many threads on the IMDb, or indeed the Net as a whole. Just wander over to YouTube and view the comments under a few “Taxi Driver” clips, literally reeking of racism and sexism, and keep going from there. (Try: “Wife beating caught on video.”) Mark my words, you will be having homicidal thoughts like Frank’s within the hour.