Bobcat Goldthwait's targets are many and easy and obvious in "God Bless America," his satire of everything that's wrong with the world today, but he hits them squarely and in bold fashion.
The former stand-up comic has carved out an intriguing career as the writer and director of dark, daring independent films. His last, 2009's "World's Greatest Dad," featured Robin Williams as a father who exploits his teenage son's freak-accident death for fame and fortune. Here, his anti-hero is a bit more familiar, a bit more of a cinematic type, but he still does some incredibly inappropriate things.
Sad-sack Frank (Joel Murray) is the divorced father of a demanding, young daughter. He's recently been fired from his job as a cubicle-dwelling drone and he might be dying from a brain tumor. With nothing to live for, nothing to lose and an anxious fire burning in his belly, he decides to take out his pent-up aggression on the shrill, selfish, narcissistic idiots out there, as well as people who are just plain mean.
His first victim: the tantrum-throwing queen bee featured on a show that looks an awful lot like MTV's "My Super Sweet 16." And here's something Goldthwait really gets right as Frank flips channels one night in a depressed stupor: His skewering of supposedly outrageous reality television and ranting, know-it-all cable news blowhards is dead-on. You could imagine these programs actually existing because they already do. A crucial subplot involving an "American Idol"-style singing competition may look familiar because it actually happened. Goldthwait doesn't have to go over the top here, although he will do so later on.
Frank gets some unexpected help from a similarly angry and disillusioned teenage girl, Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), who witnesses his first attack and becomes his giddy sidekick on a bloody, multi-state killing spree. She's precocious and hyper-verbal, like a character in a Diablo Cody movie, and Goldthwait even has the chutzpah to add the famous screenwriter to the list of people who make his characters angry. Barr never feels like a real person for a second, and the introduction of her character actually weakens the film, but her enthusiasm is amusing.
While we're making comparisons, "God Bless America" has a whole lotta "Taxi Driver" in it, and some "Network," and some "Heathers" (with Barr functioning as Christian Slater in the equation), and even some "Kick-Ass." But often, it still feels like its own entity through Goldthwait's specific voice. He makes us do something we may not even want to admit to ourselves: acknowledge that Frank is right, and that maybe we're even enjoying watching these people get away with the slaughter.
Much of that sensation comes from Murray's performance itself. Frank isn't unhinged or off-putting. He's a reasonable, even-keeled and seemingly intelligent guy who's fed up with the deterioration of decency in society. That might not be the best reason to load up on guns and ammunition and take out strangers in the blink of an eye, but Frank does make his case.
"God Bless America," a Magnolia Pictures release, is rated R for strong violence and language including some sexual sequences. Running time: 104 minutes. Three stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G — General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.