Synopsis – A chainsaw-wielding George Washington teams with beer-loving bro Sam Adams to take down the Brits in a tongue-in-cheek riff on the American Revolution.
My Take – Considering how excellent the previous animated collaboration (The Mitchells vs. the Machines) between Netflix and producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller was, I was quite excited for their joint wild reinvention of the American Revolution and Founding Fathers.
Backed by a recognizable voice cast and a crew, that includes director Matt Thompson (Archer) and writer Dave Callaham (Mortal Kombat, Wonder Woman 1984), who have worked on many other successful ventures, this film, right from its bonkers first trailer seemed like a perfect winning comedy on the lines of South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999) and Team America: World Police (2004).
Unfortunately despite having all the right ingredients, the film is a lot bolder visually than it should have been humor wise as it attempts to walk the same line between mockery and actual jingoism. Sure, while the film is just dumb enough, and just loud enough, with a basic pitch that also gives a reasonable expectation of vulgar humor and sarcasm to be thrown in, it loses control when it seems to be trying way too hard at pretty much everything it attempts to do.
Yes, some of the brashness grows on you as the film becomes more and more absurd. But for every clever observation or twist that the film delivers, it quickly undoes it with something irreverent and often quite unfunny. If only the energy used on the film’s low-brow humor was channeled towards real-world satire, this R-rated, raunchy, gory, silly film could have been quite the achievement.
The story follows George Washington (voiced by Channing Tatum), who is looking to seek revenge from Benedict Arnold (voiced by Andy Samberg), a traitorous werewolf, who not only sabotaged the signing of the Declaration of Independence by killing the founding fathers, but also murdered his lifelong friend Abraham Lincoln (voiced by Will Forte) right in front of him.
Though initially despondent of the task ahead of him, upon coaxing from Martha (voiced by Judy Greer), George puts together a team consisting of Samuel Adams (voiced by Jason Mantzoukas), Paul Revere (voiced by Bobby Moynihan), Thomas Edison (voiced by Olivia Munn), and Geronimo (voiced by Raoul Max Trujillo), to take down Arnold with a silver bullet carved by John Henry (voice by Killer Mike), his commanding army of Redcoats and their tyrannical leader King James (voiced by Simon Pegg), all to ensure the establishment of the nation of America.
What ensues over the course of the next 98 minutes is a mixture of animated gore, hit and miss jokes, pop culture references and numerous outdated attempts to satirize the racist history of the United States in the most obvious way possible. Frankly, this is a moderately intriguing premise, hence it is disappointing to see how it goes about using it. It’s hard to discern exactly how and why a purported comedy film produced by two of the most inventive animation directors working, directed by one of the people behind one of the most popular comedy animated series on television, came to be written by a guy whose most notable works have been mostly bland blockbusters.
The film has enough material for a five minute YouTube sketch or maybe 22 minutes of a Robot Chicken type of a TV episode, but at 98 minutes it becomes all too obvious the material is not strong enough to sustain feature length as it rests on its basic premise as the beginning and end of the joke.
While the humor isn’t relentlessly bland, it has a terrible hit-to-miss ratio than the track records of pretty much every single person involved here would lead you to expect.
Like the sequence when Arnold tries to declare that he’s switched sides prompts an extended sequence where he has to awkwardly convince Lincoln and Washington that he’s isn’t coming out as gay, isn’t funny. The script, from writer Dave Callaham also repeatedly notes that the founding fathers were white men who really only cared about the interests of other white men. Then it moves on, without any point or punchline.
That’s especially true when the guys are recruiting more diverse allies like the expert tracker Geronimo or Iron Man-style super-scientist Thomas Edison, who is recast as a Chinese-American woman.
Nothing can hide the fact that this script is a flailing mess, throwing jokes frantically at the screen and only occasionally making one stick. It’s exploitative in its use of ultra-violence and it has this sort of jock-level intellect, where it’s just funny to hear animated characters swear and say the F-bomb repeatedly without any real comedic reasoning.
Thankfully, the animation in the film is at least decent with good use of perspective, appealing character and environmental designs, and fluid movements and expressions that make the visuals really pop. In terms of its technical aspects you’d be hard pressed to find a film of this type that looks this nice.
Voice performance wise, Channing Tatum really hams it up, and Jason Mantzoukas plays his usual self. While in other roles, Olivia Munn, Killer Mike, Andy Samberg, Bobby Moynihan, Raoul Max Trujillo and Simon Pegg effectively perform their vocal duties. Sadly, Judy Greer is largely wasted as the future Martha Washington. On the whole, ‘America: The Motion Picture’ is a serviceable yet bonkers animated feature that isn’t as funny as it should have been.
Directed – Matt Thompson
Rated – R
Run Time – 98 minutes