At first glance, “America: The Motion Picture” should be exactly the kind of thing you’d want watch over the 4th of July weekend. A cartoon parody retelling of the founding America with a star studded voice cast? Yes please. Unfortunately, the film ends up being a train wreck you simply can’t unsee or stop watching. Almost immediately I found myself exclaiming, “what the fuck am I watching?!?” and while I couldn’t quite look away, I was never quite sure whether or not it was all worth it. The film seems to know who its audience is but not really caring if they enjoy what’s happening. It’s only mildly funny, with the best scenes scattered around a lot of rapid fire, often unfunny meta one liners. “America: The Motion Picture” isn’t bad as much as it’s just not good, delivering an overabundance of self aware comedy while not delivering on the laugh out loud comedy it has the potential of having. “America: The Motion Picture” is too clever and too self aware for its own good, crumbling under the weight of its own self importance and desperate need to be as edgy as it can be.
“America: The Motion Picture” is a hodge podge amalgamation of a numerous comedies and parodies before it. It’s part “Robot Chicken” meets “National Lampoon’s” parody mixed with a sprinkle of “Inglorious Bastards” history rewriting peppered with over the top anime style “Castlevania” violence jam-packed with “Two Broke Girls” non-stop one liners overstuffed with a “Tropic Thunder” meta narrative. The problem is all of these aforementioned projects are better at what the film tries to borrow. It wants to be everything and nothing, striving so hard to not be taken seriously that it can’t really be taken at all.
It makes it really hard to enjoy, but also hard to hate? It is so middle of the road that it becomes forgettable for the things it does right and memorable for the things it does wrong. It leaves the viewer wanting; you want to like it for some of its strong self referential running gags and parody scenes, but you end up not really liking it over all because there just isn’t enough of its strength to warrant high praise.
The stand outs are most certainly Channing Tatum as George Washington, the titular character of “America: The Motion Picture.” The film is reimagining of history, where Washington must fulfill the dreams of his best bro Abe Lincoln in creating America and freeing himself from the British who are being led by the Benedict Arnold of Benedict Arnolds, Benedict Arnold (I’m not being cute here either, I mean exactly what I just wrote). Tatum has often thrived in comedic roles, be it “21 Jump Street” or “Kingsman: The Golden Circle.” I know Hollywood desperately wants him to be stay a dramatic, romantic heart throb, but damn does Tatum do comedy well. Even rapid fire one liner voice overs, Tatum is damn near perfect as Washington. He’s so good you can’t help but wonder how he’s not a regular on shows like “Family Guy,” “Rick and Morty,” or “American Dad.” Tatum chews through scenery with his expert delivery even if the lines themselves aren’t always as funny as the writers think they are. That’s high praise considering the fact that he’s joined by voiceover regulars like Judy Greer, Jason Mantzoukas, Simon Pegg, and Andy Sandberg.
The voice cast includes all of these stars and more, with just about every voice being a legitimate working actor. There’s not really anyone that doesn’t do a good job, but what lets the down is the writing and overall purpose of “America: The Motion Picture.” written by David Callaham, it demonstrates both the strengths and limitations of a prolific screenwriter. Callaham is responsible for the garbage that was “Wonder Woman 1984” and “Mortal Kombat 2021” but is also credited for “Shang Chi: Legend of the 10 Rings” and “Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse Sequel.” The jury is still out on whether or not Callaham is a good screenwriter. On the one, “America: The Motion Picture” demonstrates a knack for meta narratives and sharp wit, with a willingness to point the finger back at filmmmakers and America with a fun tongue in cheek attitude. On the other hand, it also shows his weaknesses in telling competent and engaging stories, and suffers the same missteps as things like “Wonder Woman 1984” where ambitious gets the better of everyone involved. This makes me very nervous for upcoming franchise entries I want so desperately to be great, and his name being attached to them after sitting through “America: The Motion Picture” makes me very, very, VERY nervous.
When it come to parody and cartoonish social commentary, there is a balance of letting your audience in on the joke while still making that joke funnier than the subject matter. “America: The Motion Picture” actually suffers from being confined to a feature film, with the format, subject matter and assaulting joke style being better suited for a series like the aforementioned ones here in this review. The film feels like a very long, overextended episode of “Robot Chicken,” which would honestly be fine if it was actually formatted to fit that medium. “America: The Motion Picture” begins so absurdly and assuming that you THINK you’re about to embark on a long “Family Guy” journey that by the time you realize it’s suppose to be a feature film you’re not quite sure if you want to stick around for that.
There are some legitimately funny moments to enjoy. “Fast and the Furious” horse race parody, the “Swordfish” hacker reference, and a Robocop Minotaur Paul Revere. All of it has an enormous amount of potential, but somehow feels wasted due to the writer’s own aspirations to have it all. If you haven’t seen “Swordfish,” the hacking scene means nothing to you and feels like a waste of time. If you have, it’s really fucking funny to watch a Tatum voiced George Washington literally recreate such a silly scene. The problem is, this type of parody works best in a cut away in a series, not as an extended joke in a feature film. Parody works because it takes a genre or specific group of films and riffs on them. “America: The Motion Picture” decides to parody everything in an episodic execution crammed into an unflattering cinematic medium.
Case it point: it just doesn’t work. I don’t even know what to do with “America: The Motion Picture.” On the one hand, I kind of want to recommend it to you just so you can experience it for yourself, good or bad. On the other, the film really isn’t for everyone, and is kind of insulting for the audience it’s actually made for. It should be much funnier than it ends up being, and seems to crumble under its own weight. It wants to be a little bit of everything which makes “America: The Motion Picture” about nothing.
“America: The Motion Picture” leaves its viewers wanting. It’s an experience and that isn’t necessarily a compliment. I don’t know that I can recommend it, but I also kind of want you to check it out for yourself.
Kind of like America itself.
Catch it streaming now, exclusively on Netflix.