Let me start out by saying that some of my very favorite movies are those made by Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker (known affectionately as ZAZ), together or separately. Airplane!, Top Secret!, Hot Shots! (Part I and Part Deux), The Naked Gun series and Ruthless People have held spots in my video library in VHS, LaserDisc and DVD versions. I've watched them all many, many times.
Later works have been a little less classic (Scary Movie 3 and 4). But there's still some good stuff in there. Something happened to parody movies over the last decade or so. First, it seems like anyone thinks they can do it. Second, movie makers somehow got the idea that just putting Leslie Nielsen into a film would automatically make it funny. And lastly, even the old hands (Mel Brooks, David Zucker) seem to have forgotten what is funny. Case in point is An American Carol.
Somewhere along the way, David Zucker not only became a conservative, he decided that he could make it funny. He was sooo wrong. Or actually, trying to make a conservative's idea of what liberals think just isn't funny. At least not to a liberal. There must be some nugget of truth in comedy for it to work, and that's a big problem with this film.
The film centers on a film maker modeled after Michael Moore, played by the late Chris Farley's brother Kevin. The film maker hates everything about America, and all the patriotic trappings. He hates the military, boy scouts, and the 4th of July. Moore himself, in real life, is none of those things. But conservatives think he is. So basically, this film is a parody of a perception, which is kind of strange.
Eventually, after much pointless (and not terribly funny) slapstick, the film segues into a take-off of A Christmas Carol. Transposing the idea to Independence Day from Christmas is sort of jarring. And honestly, the story has had so many takeoffs over the years--from other movies to just about every long-running TV series for the past 30 years--it's pretty worn-out territory. Farley is serviceable as Moore, and the acting in the film is not the problem. It's what they're given to work with that is the problem.
Cameos and larger parts are made by several recognizable actors, including almost every well-known conservative actor in Hollywood. Kelsey Grammar, Kevin Sorbo, Leslie Nielsen, Dennis Hopper, James Woods, Robert Davi, David Alan Grier, Jon Voit and many others turn up. None of them is bad in their part. But, not only does almost every joke land with a thud (and the subtlety of an anvil), the subject of the humor never rises above the late un-lamented 1/2-hour News Hour from FOX "News."
Leslie Nielsen--one of my all-time favorites in about half his films--may be getting a little too old for this kind of thing. He plays "Grandpa" but looks like "Great Grandpa"--at least. Grammar as Gen. George S. Patton (an actual relative of mine) is the closest thing to funny in the whole picture. That has a lot more to do with him being a pro, than it does with the material he's given. Farley's character is so nasty and vile, I'm surprised Moore didn't sue for defamation. And I was just embarrassed for Grier as a slave in a "what if Lincoln didn't fight the Civil War" present day.
A 1968 musical number could have been funny, but suffers from the central problem: it's centered around what conservatives imagine that liberals believe. Parody is all about exaggeration. But this doesn't exaggerate the truth, it exaggerates ideas that exist only in the minds of the far-right's fevered imaginations. The very premise of a prominent liberal wanting to abolish the 4th of July is completely out of right-wing world. I'm aware that the film is intended for conservative audiences, not for me. But do even conservatives find this funny?
I should mention that I bought this DVD in a three-for-$10 bin at Hollywood Video. $3.33 is more than the film is worth though, sadly. The film pulled in a dismal $7 million (though it had a budget of $20 million), so I guess I'm not alone. I'm not sure how well the DVD itself did, but as a graphic artist, I must say the cover sucks. And that's being generous. The blurbs don't quite sell it, and the lack of a major studio's name anywhere on the box makes me wonder how this thing even got to DVD.
My review: Don't even get it for $3 just to see how bad it is. Just take my word for it.