In the United States, what we teach as history and historical accuracy is somehow a hot button issue right now. Ignorant, enraged, and overwhelmingly white parents are shaking in their boots at the thought that their children may learn some hard truths about American history—that our nation was not always the moral, perpetual Good Guy badass that we present ourselves as. If these outraged, analphabetic reactionaries had it their way, we’d likely be teaching America: The Motion Picture as 100 percent fact in every red state public school across the country.
From executive producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and director Matt Thompson (Archer), America: The Motion Picture is a gory, loud, and exceedingly stupid animated comedy that stretches the one-note joke of “what if the Founding Fathers were dude-bros?” into a numbing 98 minutes. Using a tone similar to Archer, but without the clever quips and genre takedowns, America may have worked as a silly short YouTube video or a half-hour pilot, but stretched to feature length it is grating and far too self-satisfied with its own crass toilet humor.
The film takes giddy delight in presenting the history of American Independence with all the details skewed and context being flat-out wrong, which is evident from the silly opening that finds politically minded Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte) murdered by a werewolf Benedict Arnold (Andy Samberg) in front of his hard-partying best friend, George Washington (Channing Tatum). Yes, that sounds fun, I know. However, the goofy anachronisms and hyper-masculine jokes start to wear and by the time the title card hits, America: The Motion Picture turns into quite the slog.
Like most of the comedies geared toward men in the last 20 years, George Washington is an overgrown man-child who must step up and fight the tyrannical British with the help of his friends. There’s a requisite “getting the team together,” sequence which finds Washington recruiting the hard-drinking frat boy Sam Adams (voiced by who else but Jason Mantzoukas), an awkward, nerdy Paul Revere (Bobby Moynihan), a gender-flipped science whiz Thomas Edison (Olivia Munn), the native tracker Geronimo (Raoul Trujillo), and a blacksmith voice by Killer Mike. Together, they work to overcome Washington’s impulsiveness and find the address in Gettysburg (get it?) where Arnold is planning to take down the American Revolution efforts.
Unfortunately, America: The Motion Picture is like an ill-timed “U.S.A.” chant; it’s overly aggressive, in your face, and not half as funny as those shouting it think that it is. Instead of jokes, the movie relies on pop culture references and anachronistic gags. It’s clear that the voice cast is having fun, especially Samberg, but the writing is simply not backing them up. When the film allows itself to get really weird, like a character thread about Paul Revere being raised by horses, it can earn a few chuckles, but the film mostly stays grounded in the philosophy that boobs, beer, and cartoon blood are all that the target demographic needs. To call a film hit and miss, it needs to hit far more often than America: The Motion Picture even attempts.
If there are more kudos to be given, it’s to the films third act, which reimagines the grand battle sequence in Avengers: Endgame as an America vs Britain beatdown, with Paul Bunyan getting trounced by Big Ben and eagles raining hellfire down on red coats. Once again, it’s slightly pleasing for a few minutes, but after a while the premise runs its course. Irreverence only works for so long; you must have some smarts too. Somewhere in this thing there’s a half-hearted attempt to teach a lesson about willful ignorance, ignoring science, white privilege, and racism, but those that will most enjoy America: The Motion Picture will only see gore, guts, and dudebro glory. Hence the movie isn’t exactly a firework that blows up in your face; it’s more like a sparkler that sizzles out before it ever really gets going.
America: The Motion Picture is now streaming on Netlix.