A movie mocking Hollywood liberals is overdue, but a movie mocking Michael Moore is outdated. David Zucker, director of zany comedies like Airplane and Naked Gun, sets his satirical sights on a ripe target: the self-satisfaction of bleeding-heart Hollywood liberals (the kind who decry world poverty while collecting multi-million dollar paychecks). That he so drastically misses his target is a missed opportunity.
“I love America,” says Michael Malone, a Moore-style filmmaker, “That’s why I want to destroy it.” Zucker recasts A Christmas Carol as Malone’s redemption from a callous, self-serving left-winger (winner of the Leni Riefenstahl Award for his latest documentary, Die, You American Pigs!) to a pro-war, pro-barbecue, flag-waving American conservative. His change of heart is prompted by the ghostly visitations of JFK, General Patton, and George Washington, and includes a visit to the ruins of the World Trade Center. This last sequence, an attempt at solemnity from a movie that turns suicide bombers into punchlines, gives new meaning to the word ‘tasteless’ in a comedic career that has included (in Airplane) excrement literally hitting the fan.
The success of Airplane and the Naked Gun series depended on the movies’ hit-to-miss ratio of visual gags. Zucker approaches comedy like an undisciplined pugilist: take enough wild swings and maybe you’ll land one. That’s all well and good if the gags come rapid-fire (in Airplane, for example, you’re laughing too hard from one inspired joke to notice you’ve missed three or four duds), but An American Carol suffers from the same dogmatic preachiness that marred Bill Maher’s anti-religious Religulous. The two would make an interesting double feature, showcasing how the left and the right tend to preach past each other to the choir, and confirming what the old-school movie producer said, “If you want to send a message, send it Western Union.” Zucker’s characters spend so much screen time scolding and speechifying that the comedy seems an afterthought, awkwardly wedged between talking points. There is one genuinely hilarious gag in the whole movie and it has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with a fake beard.