Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Cinema File #25: "FDR: American Badass" Review


Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter proved that one joke involving a former president in an action context could not sustain a movie, and now FDR: American Badass, has disproved that notion all over again, with a passion.

Teddy Roosevelt gets a lot of play nowadays for his satirically bad ass presence, almost rivaling Honest Abe in terms of automatic comedic potential. And yet, I would always argue that his much more successful relative, liberal scion FDR, deserves as much if not more street cred in the kick ass department (you know, without literally being able to kick anyone). So when I came across this movie, my heart leapt. Great comic actor and master of the distinguished goofball Barry Bostwick playing my favorite U.S. president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in his secret war against Nazi werewolves? I honestly don't think there was ever a chance that this movie would exist and I wouldn't watch it. Just the title alone made me smile for an hour, even if a tiny voice in the back of my mind told me there was no way it was going to live up to the idealized movie I was already building in my head. And yet, it did. Almost completely. Though there are a few rough spots where the super quick, anything goes comedy either goes too far or just falls flat, those points pale in comparison to the vast majority of moments that had me howling throughout.

Ordinarily, I feel like to get a concept like this right, you have to play it straight. For the joke to work, the world has to be taken as seriously as possible so that the absurdity of it is exemplified. That being said, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter did at least that perfectly, and yet it failed miserably at being entertaining even a little bit. This movie breaks that rule in the first five minutes and just launches into wall to wall comic insanity, and it grabbed me right away and didn't let go. For a good 45 minutes, pretty much every joke landed for me, and even when some things started to become gratuitous or downright crass, there was always something great just around the corner to bring my spirits back up.



Barry Bostwick is as awesome as you would expect him to be in this role, playing the action hero FDR, decked out in a rocket launching chair built by Albert Einstien, and giving every line that perfect tinge of unearned gravitas the way only he can do it. Add to that Bruce McGill as his loyal confidant, saying the stupidest fucking dialogue with deadly seriousness every time, not to mention Ray Wise as the hard bitten Douglas MacArthur, Paul Wilson as the drunken Winston Churchhill and Paul Ben Victor as Werewolf Mussolini. I can't begin to describe how much this movie is enhanced by the caliber of the actors from the main cast to the cameos. Robert Riehle shows up for one line that made me almost pee my pants laughing, and there are so many little moments like that. Special mention goes to Kevin Sorbo, who I'm developing an odd new appreciation for with his recent straight to DVD work, who here plays a Mary Jane induced hallucination/time traveling ghost of Lincoln who visits and advises any president past, present, and future who dares indulge in George Washington's secret stash.

If that last sentence didn't convince you to watch this movie, then I don't know what will. There are some weaker moments, where the impulse to go over the top tips over just too far into Family Guy style crude for the sake of crude. A campaign stop in Georgia had me rolling my eyes quite a bit, but it introduced a character that eventually grew on me, and the scene where the Roosevelt family discovers that they've won the election descends into the kind of obscene madness that I'm sure sounding like a good idea at the time, but just gets ridiculous, and not in a good way. My one bit of advice to the writers: once shitting in a flower pot becomes a running gag, a little soul searching might be in order. Also, the interplay of the Werewolf Axis of Evil can get a little grating at times, but not to the point of outright annoyance. Then again, I couldn't help chuckling every time FDR brought out his "tiny little shriveled up polio legs," a description that thankfully is trotted out every time the joke comes back.

I also want to give a shout out to the excellent production design, which I don't typically ever bring up in my reviews. This movie looks so bad in the best way. Every inch of this movie is hilariously and deliberately fake, putting one in mind of a cheap high school stage production. The green screen explosions and flimsy sets establish the perfect tone of madcap stupidity that this film milks for all its worth. This is a movie that could have so easily been a one joke mess, but instead it shines as a testament to absurdest filmmaking. I couldn't help thinking back on the classic Zucker Abrams Zucker canon (pre-American carol/Scary Movie) as the sheer unadulterated wackiness of this movie exploded right in my face.

See this movie. Right now. Stop reading this blog and go get it and watch it, and laugh. And then come back and read this blog again, cause frankly I need the hits. I've got mouths to feed. FDR: American Badass, is a surprising comic gem that made my morning, and deserves a lot more praise then its liable to get given the context of its release. It's a movie that needed to be made, and the kind of movie I want to make some day.

I just hope that by the time I get the chance, Barry Bostwick is still around to play Kung Fu Astronaut Barack Obama. That's gonna be sweet.
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