God Bless America Trailer: Sociopathy and graphic violence OK with the MPAA, but not the "f" word


God Bless America is to be released on May 11th, though it already debuted on VOD, April 6th, an indication that its distributor had greater expectations from the “direct to vid” route than theatrical. Bobcat Goldthwait‘s ascerbic “black comedy,” portrays the serial murder spree of a hapless, terminally ill, and eminently “disposable” middle-aged American man and his impetuous young partner, a mal-adapted high-school nymphette.

Appalled and emotionally wounded by the degradation of public life in this our divinely ordained and exceptional nation, the two accidental road-buddies take it upon themselves to punish crimes against civility and decency by murdering those–whether reality TV stars or mere run-of-the-mill assholes–they hold responsible. It’s a pastiche of Bonnie and Clyde, Natural Born Killers and Lolita, although Frank (Joel Murray) resists Roxy’s (Tara Lynn Barr) sexual advances on the principle that exploiting her youth and enthusiasm would make him one of the assholes he’s targeting.

As myself a critic of toxic pop culture, I was sympathetic to Frank and Roxy’s dismay, supportive of their resolve to campaign against toxic cultural programming, though ultimately skeptical of their methods. So, rather than write about the marketing of yet another mind-numbing summer blockbuster, I thought I’d see how a small, personal, mean little satire might position itself within the marketplace of bland, commercial juggernauts.


And this is what I noticed first: the all-audiences, “green” trailer was hard to find on Youtube, and when located (far down in the rankings, though available on the official movie website, just below the tab for the Redband one), revealed itself to be nearly identical to the redband version, except for the removal of an obscenity or two. It’s the same cut, the same cues, the same story, conflict, subject matter, tone and the same quantity of undermotivated but gleeful graphic violence.

Unlike in the new Walking Dead video game, where dispatching zombies extracts a psychic toll, killing in God Bless America (a title card graphic shows a Statue of Liberty silhouette around a marksmanship target!) is easy, fun and requires no commitment. Just aim and shoot and the deserving malefactors drop, like the acid quips from our protagonists lips. Frank and Roxy are taking “their ground” on the road and “standing” tall with pistols and shotguns locked and loaded. Unruly, talkative movie goers, smart-phone videographers, parking space hogs, misbehaving reality TV “stars,” and ultimately the talent, judges, host and audience of an American Idol like program eat their lead. It’s wonderfully cathartic!

The MPAA contributes to the satire, inadvertently, I suppose, since what must be removed for a G rating isn’t mature themes or gratuitous violence, but merely the stray, bleeped “f”-bomb. The NRA also approved this preview, it appears.

So who might want to see such a film and how does the trailer address this hypothetical audience? Actually, quite a broad swath of the American public has the potential to enjoy this movie. First, core Bobcat fans; second, afficionados of black comedy; next, haters of reality TV; cranky old people (I count myself among such) who bemoan the decline in civility and cultural emissions production; young men who like guns and violence and jack-ass humor; red state vigilantes and gun enthusiasts; blue state intellectuals who notice how the heroes become complicit in the very behavior they denounce. Wow! As I wrote this list, I began to think that Mr. Goldthwait has summer-blockbuster counter-programming catnip on his hands. (But alas, a marketing budget is, too typically, destiny.]

Formally, the trailer is composed of successive scenes of viewing, interrupted by scenes of action, usually involving an unmediated (i.e. real–face to face, bullet and blood) interaction between spectator and spectacle. Frank flips through channel after channel of corrosive, demeaning programming as he prepares to end his life. In a flashback, his doctor show him a computer monitor shot of his pulsing, inoperable brain tumor, before taking a call that flashes on his mobile screen. Frank and Roxy take in a movie at an actual theater, but are obliged to murder talkative, pop-corn throwing teen neighbors as well as the fellow who captures their gun-play on his video-phone. The then thank a more courteous fellow patron for turning off her phone during the film and the carnage that followed.

The final destination of their road trip is the set of an American Idol like show, onto whose stage and via whose cameras, they beam their own violent, show-stopping, star-making performance into homes around the nation. America’s got talent indeed!!

Have they become themselves the problem? Yessiree Bobcat, which is, the vicious joke of the film, as it is of the trailer. There’s no outside to the closed circuit of screen and viewer, program and polity, trailer and audience. The revolution will be televised; political action and reaction will be represented and commodified, attracting eyeballs with shock and awe visuals, eyeballs that can then be delivering to advertisers, who finance the culture that sells their products.

And yet, Frank and Roxy are heroes, if only for getting off the couch and asserting themselves with the only weapons they have–guns, atrocity, a sense of humor. Disenfranchised, obscure, taken-for-granted, quiet-Americans defend an ideal of civility and quality that while quaint is nevertheless poignant. That they do so in the coarsest, most brutal and dehumanizing way is, well, the irony that undergirds the satire.

God Bless America, indeed! Where else but in a trailer could the passive viewer achieve the apotheosis of becoming the object of his desire and loathing while simultaneously, through a purchase decision, approving the psychological confusion?

It’s a radioactive trailer and the film looks pretty toxic too. See it.

Creative Commons License
movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
This entry was posted in Observations and Provocations, Readings and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *