America: The Motion Picture movie review — Juvenile attempt at revisionist retelling of war for independence

The American War of Independence is recast as a sci-fi fantasy/action/adventure/bromance with comic book superhero treatment given to George Washington and his pals.

Rohini Nair July 01, 2021 14:30:36 IST

2/5

Revisionist retellings of historical events offer a great opportunity to look at long-held narratives anew, to zoom away from the established cause-and-effect sequence of developments to explore tantalising "what ifs", to see towering personalities in a different light. America: The Motion Picture does none of these things. Unless you've always had an overwhelming desire to witness what George Washington as a Wolverine-esque modern bro would have been like.

The animated feature by writer Daniel Callahan and director Matt Thompson (Archer) is a confusing experience at best, a dull slog at worst. It purportedly tells the story of the American War of Independence, but recasts it as a sci-fi fantasy/action/adventure/bromance with comic book superhero treatment given to Washington and his pals. These pals are a motley crew: [the ghost of] Abe Lincoln, Washington's best friend and champion of American liberation until his assassination; Sam Adams, an unruly beer-brewing frat boy with a penchant for violent fun; Paul Revere, the fastest horse rider in the land, with nary a human friend and even more negligible social skills; a female Thomas Edison, condemned as a witch for her scientific experiments and intelligence; Geronimo, a native American tracker out to avenge the destruction of his people; and John Henry, a blacksmith. There's also a suitably buxom and blonde Martha Washington whose main role seems to be to inspire George with sex and speeches, as the situation demands, so he can stay on the true and righteous path of leading America to liberation.

Typical underdog tropes play out as the 'plot' unfolds: Washington encountering each member of his band of merry men (and woman) in some suitably outré situation, as they collectively gang up against the might of the British Empire, represented here by King James and his right-hand man Benedict Arnold, who just so happens to be a werewolf. Yes. Because an inhumane colonising force wouldn't be nemesis enough for our heroes. There are also some evil machinations involving tea that are ludicrous even when juxtaposed with all the other ludicrous happenings.

Historical facts are loosely interspersed with fiction in storytelling choices that make little sense. The animation is well-done, but stylistically inspires a sense of deja vu. Winks to pop culture are scattered liberally throughout the film, from The Transporter to John Wick to My Cousin Vinny, the Doof Warrior and the battle for Minas Tirith, but aren't quite as clever as they're intended to be. The overall effect is of a fanboy having created a "spot the Easter egg challenge" for viewers. It's unclear who these viewers are, for whom this film has been made: on the one hand, it's adolescent in its treatment, but on the other, its pop culture signposts aren't exactly part of the adolescent landscape. The word 'juvenile' is what comes to mind.

America: The Motion Picture has moments of self-awareness though that lift it from its general lacklustreness. In one of the earliest scenes, the founding fathers fight over what the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence should be: "We the people" wins over "Us rich white dudes" by a narrow margin, settled by a game of beer pong. Or when Edison rants about the uninformed pushback against science — but also when she waxes eloquent about how she wants to use science to create a weapon that will end war (hello, atomic bomb). Or when indigenous people and those of colour voice their hope their rights will be recognised after the battle for independence is won. Or the nod to skewed gun control laws.

Apart from several bonus points for discerning use of RTJ in its soundtrack (Killer Mike is among the voice cast), America: The Motion Picture is eminently skippable. For a genuinely cool retelling of American history, we have Hamilton.

America: The Motion Picture is now streaming on Netflix.

Rating: **

Watch the trailer here —

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