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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt

An American Carol

I first saw David Zucker’s Airplane! in a crowded urban theater and the audience was laughing uproariously throughout the film, except for one gag, when the airplane’s wing knocks over the antenna of a radio station as the station is proclaiming, “Where disco lives forever.” The theater went dead silent, and remained that way until the next solid gag. Zucker’s entire 2008 antidisestablimentarian comedy, An American Carol, from Vivendi Entertainment, plays like that disco joke. Somewhere in America, there may be pockets of viewers that will find it amusing (according to Zucker on the commentary track, they tested the film in Plano Texas and it got an enthusiastic response, sort of), but for the most part, the film’s themes feel wrongheaded (Does anyone really believe that Michael Moore doesn’t love his country?) and except for a stray, well-timed slapstick gag here and there, the humor falls flat. Which doesn’t mean the movie isn’t fascinating. It just isn’t funny. There’s no real reason to see it, but curiosity will draw some viewers to the spectacle of talented artists getting carried away by their beliefs and letting it intrude too nakedly upon their art, and that can be perversely enjoyable, just like accidents at a NASCAR race.

Kevin Farley portrays a Moore-like documentary filmmaker and personality who is shown the realities of the world by several historical figures-primarily George Patton (played by Kelsey Grammer), who hardly seems like a promising role model. The film is bookended by Leslie Nielsen, telling the tale that unfolds to a group of children at a Fourth of July picnic, and one of the movie’s real flaws is that it does not work hard enough to truly follow the Christmas Carol template it is giving lip service to. There is a minor plot about a group of hapless terrorists who are trying to manipulate Farley’s character into helping them (Robert Davi, as the chief terrorist, gives one of the film’s better comical performances), but the lack of a strong story magnifies the aimlessness of the 83-minute film’s sentiments and, to a certain extent, makes everyone involved look foolish.

The picture is presented in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 1.85:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback. The color transfer looks fine. The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound, as is usual for comedies, has occasional separation effects and a functional delivery. There are optional English subtitles, four trailers and 16 minutes of extended scenes, deleted scenes and alternate improvs.

Zucker, Farley and co-screenwriter Lewis Friedman supply a commentary track, mentioning that they often had to make up jokes on the day of the shoot because the gags they’d written weren’t working. And sometimes, they couldn’t get their ideology straight, either. “Kelsey had the line, ‘Enjoy your privacy rights in Hell.’ After he did that the first time, he came over to me and said, ‘You know, I’m actually for privacy rights,’ and I said, ‘Well, Kelsey, I think we all are.’ And he said, ‘Should I be saying that?’ And that’s when we added the line before it, that ‘Not when privacy rights interfere with survival rights.'”

“There was a scene where Kelsey shot the [captured Taliban fighter] in line. He said, ‘Oh, sorry.'” “It didn’t work? It wasn’t as funny?” “The way it was originally written, is he shot one of the American soldiers, and then went, ‘Oh, sorry.'” “And Kelsey was going to say, ‘That’s going to be a hard letter to write.'” “Yeah, Kelsey said he didn’t want to do it. He didn’t want to shoot an American soldier.” “And he was right.” “Still, it’s pretty funny.” “I loved it.” “I thought it was funny.”

– by Douglas Pratt

Douglas Pratt’s DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter is published monthly.
For a free sample, call (516)594-9304 or go to his website at

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon