MPAA Rating: TV-MA/ Genre: Animated Adult Sci-Fi Parody Comedy/Voices of: Channing Tatum, Jason Mantzoukas, Olivia Munn, Bobby Moynihan, Judy Greer, Will Forte, Raoul Trujillo, Killer Mike, Simon Pegg, Andy Samberg, Carlos Alazraqui, Jason Barnes, Dave Callaham, Christian Danley, Jeff Fastner, Kevin Gillese, Zebbie Gillese, Jared Hickman, Meal Holman, J. Larose, Megan Leahy, Amber Nash, Mark Paterson, Patrick Piper, Eric Sims, Mike Schatz, Matt Thompson, Lucky Yates/ Runtime: 98 minutes
Upon seeing the new slice of cinematic pie on Netflix that is America: The Motion Picture, people wanted to know just what kind of movie this was because based off the trailer it seems like this is one cinematic ride the likes of which you don’t see come around that often. Well let me put it to you this way dear reader: this is a movie where in the first few minutes you learn that apparently infamous traitor Benedict Arnold…..is a blood craving werewolf. (No I’m not kidding). Yet this is not entirely a spoiler since telling you this doesn’t even begin to crack into the significantly bigger curves in the road that are at the heart of an adult animated film that desires to give adult audiences a rather unique take on early American History. Indeed this narrative hook, the remarkable vocal cast they’ve assembled to bring this distinct tale to life, and the creative forces at work behind it including film helmer Matt Thompson (one of the creative minds behind the hit animated TV spy show Archer) and powerhouse producing duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (yes those would be the same guys who gave us the Jump Street movies, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) all seem like ingredients that would make any movie they’re a part of at least a grand slam. For this film however, all of these elements manage to merge and blend together into a slice of cinematic pie that is downright audacious and chaos-ridden in every way possible and then some that is only held together through the work done on it by the truly game vocal cast of players who are all aces in the best way possible.
The plot is as follows: Taking place in a timeline to say nothing of world vastly different from the one you may have either read or fallen asleep hearing about in your United States History classes in school, America: The Motion Picture places its focus front and center on a distinct team of aspiring revolutionaries whose leader is none other than George Washington (big surprise there) and whose iron-clad desire to make the United States of America a reality is one that has its roots in a truly horrific tragedy. It is with that in mind that we see ol’ George decide to join forces with a party and alcohol (mostly beer) adoring guy by the name of Samuel Adams, a female scientist whose not exactly a hit with the community by the name of Thomas Edison, a passionate horseback rider by the name of Paul Revere, and a practical Native American hunter by the name of Geronimo on a mission to steal a significant piece of intel from infamous Revolutionary War turncoat (and aforementioned lycanthrope) Benedict Arnold, who is operating at the bequest of the nefarious and quite infamous King James in an attempt to do their part in not only kicking some serious British bad guy butt, but also in helping America become the country that she is meant to become (or something to that effect).
Now I’m just going to come right out and say that basic plot description doesn’t even begin to cover all the downright insanity that this slice of cinematic pie brings to the table since going into ALL of it would take way more words than I care to write. Suffice it to say though there are quite a few points where this gonzo level of outrageousness is actually not that bad of a place to be with some combat sequences proving to be astonishingly well shot to say nothing of work in the humor department that are beautifully done that manage to include some delightful visual comedy or mixing up of several currently existing pop culture elements. Yet with that being said, as this movie’s runtime goes on, its comedic sensibilities do go perilously close to being one note with particular regard to how numerous back and forths between characters about either an erroneous statement or something that could be seen as in bad taste go into something you’d see out of….well Archer come to think or a character bringing something up that another one doesn’t seem to be familiar with. Yes these styles of comedy can be implemented fairly well, they do tend to get a wee bit stale when they are repeated over and over during a 98 minute (including credits) runtime, and it does it so much that it really does sadly sap the energy from moments in this that are legitimately novel and/or comedic.
Incidentally this sense of tempo also has some distinct fallout when it comes to the overall tone of this film to say nothing of what it is trying to convey about the whole “American experiment”. Indeed there are moments in this film that strive to paint this odyssey of George and pals as a very riveting and applaud-worthy effort and some of the movie’s more fulfilling moments are ones that choose to take a breath and just appreciate the truly odd blend that is United States culture. With that being said though, there are perhaps a few awkward components of American history during the Revolution that should be brought up yet this film doesn’t really feel entirely sure in the best way to address those. Indeed yes there are quite a few comedic bits about racism (and to a smaller degree misogyny) all through this slice of cinematic pie yet they are quickly gotten through in order to get to yet another punchline only for those biased perspectives to either be astonishingly have amends made in the final act of the film or never even brought up again. Suffice it to say that even though the fact that this slice of cinematic pie does every now and then point out these elements is respectable, it also starts feeling apathetic when the back and forth about these things degrades into, for all intents and purposes, the emoji that looks like a person shrugging. Suffice it to say that there is a very logical discussion to be had about utilizing revisionist history to be able to create a respectable social commentary as much as an unashamed slice of escapist cinema pie, but this movie isn’t always able to triumph when it attempts to do both of those things.
With that being said, one of the biggest positives that this red, white, and blue slice of cinematic pie has going for it would be the cast that they have assembled for this which, once every main character in this is given their introduction, do a wonderful job of just bringing their distinct takes on these legendary heroes and villains to life. Indeed as arguably the main character, we see that Tatum brings the delightful mix of charming and funny that made his work on this film’s producers Jump Street films such a treasure to this film and gives us a take on George Washington that is able to inspire people, but also at times is a bit of a moron as well. I also really liked the fact that this film decided to give gifted performer Jason Mantzoukas a very well-earned main supporting role as Samuel Adams and he does such a good job that he makes some of Adams more cringey lines in this a lot easier to digest. Meanwhile we see that Moynihan, a nearly unrecognizable voice-wise Pegg (playing his take on King George like he’s the Emperor from Star Wars), Samberg, Judy Greer as Martha Washington, and Will Forte as Abraham Lincoln all make the choice to take their respective parts down the most ridiculous avenues possible yet this also helps make some of the more unusual things that happen in this film more palpable. Thankfully, the weirdness of those cast members is then balanced out to some degree by the work done in this by Raoul Trujillo (whose Geronimo gets a truly delightful introductory scene) and Killer Mike as a blacksmith who may or may not be John Henry. Yet out of everyone, I felt that the best character in this was the distinct take on Thomas Edison played by Olivia Munn as this was a character that not only does Munn deliver in a way that is consistently engaging and entertaining, but I honestly would love a spin-off movie just about her character and her respective adventures.
Finally, when looking at this slice of animated cinematic apple pie from the perspective of it’s technical merits, America: The Motion Picture is one that chooses to engage in some distinct creative choices besides the previously mentioned sight gags. Perhaps the biggest one is the fact that this slice of cinematic pie is done exclusively in 2D which makes for quite the intriguing switch in perspective even whilst proving still riveting to view be it if the action beat going down is the movie’s take on the final battle from Avengers: Endgame or just a pair of characters shooting the breeze about beer. No it doesn’t take you into the movie and/or prove to be as game changing as what was seen in other movies from this creative team (with particular regard to the aforementioned Spider-Verse), but when taking into account how rare, with the exception of perhaps Disney, film studios in the land of movie magic make 2D animated movies nowadays it’s still a welcome sight.
All in all in terms of comparing slices of cinematic pie about Early America you could watch on the 4th of July, I feel if Hamilton is like watching fireworks with a glass of lemonade in your hand then America: The Motion Picture is like watching fireworks whilst under the influence of at least 6-7 Red Bull vodkas. Indeed this slice of cinematic pie is one that is both fun in terms of its narrative concept as well as by and large in how it’s executed and the cast is made up of a group of people who are fairly enjoyable whenever they pop up in things. At the same time however, the overall film is one that does lean a bit too far into becoming way too messy and uneven to say nothing of not having the assertiveness to just let loose and go as completely off the wall as it wanted to. Yes this slice of cinematic pie could have benefited quite strongly from doing so, but for what it turns out to be its still entertaining and engaging enough to recommend checking out at least once. On a scale of 1-5 I give America: The Motion Picture a solid 3 out of 5.