GOD BLESS AMERICA
* * *
Cert 15, 104 mins
Every now and then we get landmark films which may or may not be big box office, but which look set to stand the test of time.
Influential cousins of Joel Murray’s performance in this movie might be said to include Warren Beatty in Bonnie & Clyde (1967) and Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver (1976).
You might then add a bit of Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator (1984) and Michael Rooker in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986). From the 90s, sprinklings of Michael Douglas in Falling Down (1993), Woody Harrelson in Natural Born Killers and Natalie Portman in Leon (1994) will do very nicely.
Next, try adding Rainn Wilson’s Super (2010) to a bit of filmmaker attitude – Michael Moore’s Bowling For Columbine (2002) and Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me (2004) spring to mind as movies that are as much about society and the directors’ conscience-pricking theories as they are about any of the on-screen central protagonists.
As you can imagine, if God Bless America has taken some of the DNA out of all of the above and then added Chloë Moretz’s cherry from Kick-Ass (2010) on top, then this is going to be quite a heady concoction.
And it certainly is. Most movies never manage to build up to anything quite as dramatic as the opening baby scene here which might well have some people walking out straight away.
Had this been given the 18 certificate the content deserves, you could be forgiven for wondering what on earth will come next.
But, although the body count rises almost inexorably, I doubt if anyone will find the rest of the film any more offensive than the way it begins.
Mad Men star Murray plays the potentially terminally ill Frank, a man at the end of his tether with the vacuous, hypocritical nature of life all around him.
In a world where people can only finger their phones all day long, he asks: ‘‘Why have a civilisation any more if we’re no longer interested in being civilised?’’
He has ‘‘no time for liars’’ and noisy neighbours cannot be tolerated.
‘‘(They) have given birth to some kind of nocturnal civil defence air raid siren that goes off every f******* night like it’s Pearl Harbour,’’ he moans.
‘‘We’re supposed to support their freedom of speech when they don’t give a f*** about mine.’’
Underpinning Frank’s motives, God Bless America has the tagline of the year: ‘Taking out the trash, one jerk at a time.’
And, although the film is dramatically uneven, sometimes wilfully off-target and clearly has few answers to anything, New York-born actor turned writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait targets today’s mixed-up and decidedly shallow celebrity culture with one the sharpest scripts this year.
‘‘I promise I won’t kill Alice Cooper’, says Frank. ‘He wrote the first rock power ballad, Only Women Bleed. I only want to kill people who deserve to die.’’
Giving Frank a sidekick like 16-year-old Roxy (an impressive Tara Lynne Barr) is both creepy and intoxicating; many young people will always be brighter than they are often given credit for.
It’s also dangerous, too, since nobody would want to see a real-life copycat and Goldthwait’s chomp on modern society offers no solutions beyond easy, senseless violence.
Nor is there any attempt to create tension through police actions.
In the end, God Bless America is as superficial as the things it is attacking.
But observations such as ‘‘the worst qualities in people are looked up to and celebrated... as long as you make money doing it’’ deserve to be aired.
And those of us who have suffered Ricky Gervais in the likes of The Invention of Lying and Cemetery Junction will long wonder why he wasn’t the central character here.
You would think it had been tailor-made for him – except he probably carries so much baggage these days that he would only have been truly credible as just another victim. GY
ICE AGE 4: CONTINENTAL DRIFT
* * * *
Cert U, 92 mins
Ice Age is one of those so-so franchises which produces perfectly watchable films, but not ones I race to the cinema to see. Yet for ten years it has entertained enough families to make a good profit and to keep those unlikely stories coming.
Last time, our prehistoric heroes faced the threat of dinosaurs, which was not entirely historically accurate.
This time, they give rather the wrong idea about plate tectonics, told through another child-pleasing theme – pirates. They jump on the buccaneer bandwagon with a load of new characters, the best of which is monkey pirate Captain Gutt, voiced by the excellent Peter Dinklage.
He is joined by a kangaroo, paragliding chipmunks, sharp-toothed sirens and Sid’s toothless granny. And a hedgehog which, for some reason, is called a molehog.
The simple story is that the land is breaking up, so woolly mammoth Manny (Ray Romano), sabre-tooth tiger Diego (Denis Leary), Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) and his granny (Wanda Sykes) are cast adrift. Left behind are Manny’s wife Ellie (Queen Latifah) and daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer), who is now a teenager interested in boys.
As the castaways drift further out to sea, they encounter storms, sea creatures and a band of pirates led by the ruthless Gutt and his tiger Shira (Jennifer Lopez).
There are some entertaining action scenes which work well in 3D, and a couple of lines to make you chuckle, especially from Sid’s granny.
But it’s not really that funny, or that exciting.
The most amusing character is still the indestructible squirrel, Scrat, with his eternal quest for acorns, and his adventures are nothing new.
It is Dinklage’s involvement that earns four stars.
Don’t go expecting too much and you’ll enjoy it well enough – and no doubt return for number five, when we’ll probably be meeting aliens or cowboys. RL
Cert 18, 102 mins
Taken in isolation, there might be several reasons why you would want to see this violent thriller.
He might not have done much of critical note since, but director William Friedkin made an astonishing double Oscar-nominated start to his career 40 years ago with The French Connection and The Exorcist.
His capable cast here includes Matthew McConaughey doing his best to resemble Woody Harrelson ‘going off on one’ as the titular character, a cop whose fireman-style ‘other job’ is to specialise in clean kills for a fee.
As a young man called Chris Smith who sees his mother’s insurance as a means of freeing up his debts, Emile Hirsch reminds us how little we’ve seen of him since Into The Wild back in 2007.
Juno Temple is equally watchable as his precocious but vulnerable little sister Dottie Smith.
Killer Joe is well made and menacing, but the story seems to be so pointless and charmless and ultimately so graphically violent, that its ending feels like a waste of everyone’s talent on screen and your time in front of it. GY
Cert 15, 87 mins
One day the penny will drop, and filmmakers will realise that it’s time to reinvent the wheel with science fiction dramas.
Even a maestro like Ridley Scott came up short with Prometheus, which never looks as interesting once we’re inside the space ship as it does during the amazing opening landscape sequences.
Here, working on a very limited budget by comparison, Noel Clarke has set this Alien-style ‘thriller’ inside... a 24-hour storage unit.
I’ve never been inside one of these things – which seem to have become a 21st century industry in their own right – and I certainly have no plans to, having seen this film.
It’s not that I would be scared of something constantly going bump, bump, bump and making smooth metal walls look increasingly lumpy, it’s just that I can scarcely imagine anywhere more soulless to be, in real life or on a sound stage.
Add a string of dumb characters you hope will be killed in five minutes and the rest of the 87-minutes literally feels like it’s 24 hours long.
Credit to Noel Clarke for rising from a single-parent, council house background to writing seven films (including Adulthood and Kidulthood), directing two (Adulthood and 188.8.131.52.) and now even producing them through his own Unstoppable production company.
But while Clarke’s other current release Fast Girls achieves the rare feat of being utterly predictable and enjoyable, if Storage 24 is the best he can do with science fiction, then it’s time the father-of-two spent a bit more time with his kids.
It might even help him to develop the sort of warm, family drama he’d actually be happy for them to watch. GY