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'God Bless America' review: Bobcat Goldthwait takes shot at reality TV

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In the first five minutes of this satire on American pop culture, a baby's head is blown apart. This grabs the attention alright, but already it seems that indie writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait is trading on the sort of cheap thrills that, he claims, are at the root of society's moral decline.

His mouthpiece for a steady stream of anti-American bile is a divorced middle-aged cubicle monkey Frank (sad-sack Joel Murray). When we meet him, he's slumped in front of the telly, channel-surfing and cursing an endless parade of talentless wannabes, which begs another question: Why doesn't he just turn the telly off and go do something useful?

After being diagnosed with a brain tumour and losing his job, Frank finally resolves to take action, except this involves buying a gun and hunting down a teenage reality star. He only shoots her after failing to burn her alive in her new sports car in what is the one genuinely funny scene.

It's amusing only because Frank is the one who's made to look silly, trying to stage a Hollywood-style slow-motion walk away from the exploding car. But again, this only highlights the fact that Frank is not above the detrimental effects of American cultural imperialism.

Of course, Frank could be perceived as a victim, acting out fantasies that have been drilled into his head by shock-a-minute television, but he doesn't inspire too much sympathy after teaming up with Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), one of the dead girl's classmates, for a cross-country shooting spree.

In an implausible turn of events, Frank lets the kid tag along to casually pop folks who talk in cinemas along with more obvious antisocial types, never questioning the morality of sealing a young girl's fate. Goldthwait only makes ironic nods to these contradictions because he cannot resolve them. It doesn't help that Roxy is even more obnoxious than the people on her hit list.

Apparently on some sort of sugar high, she is determined to live out a Bonnie and Clyde fantasy, complete with vintage hats. But the film version of that story resonated on an emotional level because it was shot through, not just with bullets, but a sense of the couple's impending doom.

This film sorely lacks any feeling of karma catching up to Frank and Roxy. They don't attract much attention from cops or onlookers either, despite CCTV footage of their exploits shown on the nightly news (which, of course, gives Roxy a big kick). It's even more astonishing, too, that the authorities fail to identify her when she returns home as a 'missing girl' in the full glare of publicity.

The finale set on the stage of TV talent show American Superstarz (with an ersatz Simon Cowell on the panel) feels like it might have been the springboard for this filmic rant and yet it also seems tacked on, like a last chance for Goldthwait and/or Frank to tell the world what he really thinks. Sadly though, he hasn't really thought this through - in reality, they'd have just cut to the break.

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