A serio-comic Falling Down for our reality TV-obsessed pop culture, God Bless America takes caustic aim at American vapidity, stupidity, and love of lowest-common-denominator values. That denunciation is communicated via a killing spree by a divorced office schlub who, fired from his job for flirting (dubbed “harassment”) and unable to convince his spoiled-brat daughter to spend a weekend with him, lashes out by gunning down an entitled teen cretin from a My Super Sweet 16-style program. This murder leads Frank (Joel Murray) to teenage Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), who shares his disgust for America’s increasingly debased mores, and, after convincing Frank not to commit suicide, becomes the Bonnie to his Clyde.
Theirs is a rampage of righteous cultural correction, designed to punish the truly worst elements of mainstream media and entertainment and, in doing so, to throw into stark relief the importance of civility, compassion, and adult discourse—all points which writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait addresses through one Frank rant and Frank-Roxy blabberfest after another. There’s no doubt about where Frank and Roxy stand on the issues of right-wing talk show hosts, TV singing contests, movie theater cellphone use, or people who give or receive physical high-fives, because Goldthwait addresses these points overtly, and with such a lack of nuance that his characters seem like mere stick-figure mouthpieces for his opinions.
What makes God Bless America so frustrating isn’t its specific critiques, which are generally spot-on, but the fact that, by wholeheartedly taking Frank’s side instead of complicating or censuring his homicidal vigilante crusade, it proves inanely one-note and preachy. That, in turn, neuters its condemnation, since Frank and Roxy come off as intensely arrogant holier-than-thou moral arbiters who often behave in the very manner they disapprove of, be it Frank’s latent attraction to Roxy (despite his refusal to participate in the further sexual “objectification” of children by American men) or Roxy slamming Diablo Cody and then immediately spouting Cody-ish lines like “So our prime directive is to interfere with the cultural evolution of a pre-warped civilization.”
Goldthwait’s direction is more fleet and snappy than in his prior World’s Greatest Dad, and his recreations of various small-screen targets (American Idol, TMZ, etc.) are assured. Those targets, however, are easy, and thus while Frank’s abhorrence of them—in particular, an Idol-ish show’s mockery-cum-veneration of a no-talent “freak”—is more than justified, it also plays as dreary and pedantic. By slamming tabloid-y degradation while dimly celebrating extreme responses to it, God Bless America simply revels in kill-‘em-all play fantasy free of any essential irony.