About nine minutes into America: The Motion Picture, the new animated film debuting on Netflix this weekend, I had to hit pause on my remote control. There were two reasons for this – 1) To catch my breath from laughing at the breakneck pace of the film’s opening set piece and, 2) to see how long the overall movie was, pondering if the makers of the film could keep up the speed at which the jokes were flying. To answer that question, no, they couldn’t keep up that pace for that animated film’s one hundred minute runtime, but it isn’t for lack of trying.
“Based on actual history,” America: The Motion Picture tells the story of how, after the assassination of his best friend Abraham Lincoln, George Washington teams up with a beer drinking Sam Adams, female Asian-American inventor Thomas Edison, Paul Revere, native chief Geronimo and Blacksmith, aka John Henry to defeat the evil machinations of the British King James and his henchman Benedict Arnold. Think of it as an extended episode of Comedy Central’s Drunk History, but with an eight-ball of cocaine instead of tequila shooters.
Silly and audacious enough to land on 2016’s Black List, America: The Motion Picture is not so much a joke machine, as it is a joke machine gun. And like the classic instructions on how to fire a machine gun, the style here is very much “spray and pray.” Jokes fly fast and furious. However, a hit-to-miss ratio that fluctuates up and down over the length of the film does translate into an uneven experience over all.
For most of the time, America: The Motion Picture seems content to fire off silly joke after silly joke for nothing more than the sake of getting a laugh. And there is nothing wrong with that usually. But every now and then, the script hints at a few jokes that carry a bit of satirical weight, as if the film is struggling to say something bigger but can’t quite get it out. But then as quickly as it seems to get the urge, it shrinks away from it.
The screenplay is by Dave Callaham, who is perhaps better known for his work writing action films like the first The Expendables and the upcoming Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings for Marvel. But with Matt Thompson (Sealab 2021, Archer) directing and Phil Lord and Christopher Miller producing, one would have expected something a little bit better.