An American Carol is something like a movie version of Sarah Palin. Word that an openly conservative Hollywood film featuring major names and an A-list director was in production electrified the base, giving rise to hope that it could be a game changer and break the Left’s monopoly on the nation’s multiplexes. But with hope came a certain apprehension. Would An American Carol be up to the task?
The answer, sadly, is no. While it certainly has its moments, in the end, irony of ironies, the movie is done in by the same flaw that has doomed so many left-leaning films in recent years: it is less entertainment than polemic.
Director/co-writer David Zucker, who along with his brother Jerry (still an ardent liberal) gave us the wonderful Airplane and Naked Gun parodies, was clearly aware of this pitfall. Zucker borrows freely from those earlier pictures, piling sight gag upon double take upon double-entendre, and placing the imperturbable Leslie Nielsen at the film’s center. The difference is that this time the humor is in the service of Zucker’s larger agenda: evoking the greatness of America and its traditions and exposing the wanton destructiveness of the American Left. While these are eminently worthy goals, Zucker—a post-9/11 conservative with a new convert’s zeal—far too often brings to the task the opposite of a light touch.
Very loosely using the Charles Dickens classic as his template, Zucker’s updated Ebenezer Scrooge is America-hating documentarian Michael Malone—Kevin Farley, an obvious double for Michael Moore—who’s leading a movement to ban the Fourth of July. A fat and easy target if ever there was one, Malone continually reveals himself as a fool, buffoon, glutton, and lecher. The portrait is satisfying, for sure, but rarely clever. Taken on a quick tour through America’s past by Kelsey Grammer’s General Patton and Jon Voight’s George Washington, Malone finally sees the error of his treasonous ways and embraces his all-American nephew, who is heading off to fight in the Persian Gulf.
Between the dead patches, the film does have its moments. ACLU lawyers come off as zombies out of Night of the Living Dead, insensible to the terrible harm they do. “Enjoy your privacy rights in hell,” shouts Dennis Hopper, a gun-totin’ hanging judge, as he blasts one of them into oblivion. Then there’s Hitler strumming “Kumbaya” on the guitar, accompanied by his pals Mussolini and Tojo. And a crowd of chanting college students so mindless that they literally chant back everything said to them. I also got a kick out of celebrity conspiracy theorist “Rosie O’Connell” and award-winning actor-director “George Mulrooney,” esteemed in Hollywood for having the courage to make a film entitled That McCarthy Sure Was Bad.
By contrast, making this film, and appearing in it, really did take some guts. (I’m not counting Paris Hilton, who shows up in the film as herself, since I’m presuming she had no grasp of the politics). Indeed, veteran Hollywood journalist Jeffrey Wells, writing on his popular site, Hollywood-Elsewhere, infamously suggested that Voight be blacklisted merely for having the temerity to attack Barack Obama in print. So those who took the leap to make this movie—among them James Woods and David Alan Grier—deserve some credit.
At the showing of An American Carol I attended, on a sunny weekend afternoon in liberal Westchester, the audience, a decidedly older crowd, seemed to feel the same way. Many had been clearly drawn to the movie by what they’d picked up from the conservative media. The couple beside me, Greatest Generation-ers, specifically mentioned Bill O’Reilly (who has a cameo in the film). They came in rooting for the film, ready to laugh, and they leapt at every chance to do so. But even for them, there were long periods of silence.
“I loved what it had to say,” the woman beside me summed up when it was over. “And it’s about time. I just wish it was a little funnier.”