Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: Americathon (1979)

For more overlooked films go here.

There are two types of overlooked film. One is the small gem which perhaps didn't have a huge marketing push and fell through the cracks, waiting to be discovered by an appreciative public. The other is the type of film that never had a chance at an appreciative audience, misfires that can only be thought of fondly by the families of the people that made them. This, my friends, is AMERICATHON. directed by Neal Israel and based on a play by the Firesign Theatre's Phil Proctor and Peter Bergman, this is a movie that should have been a whole let funnier than it is.

Set in the far-flung future world of 1998, an out of control energy crisis has left the US bankrupt, leaving people to live in their park cars instead of driving them and forcing the US government to borrow $400 billion from the country's wealthiest citizen (played by Chief Dan George) in order to keep the country afloat. When the government is given thirty days to repay the debt, President Chet Roosevelt (John Ritter) puts on hold his plans to raffle the tomb of the Unknown Soldier to the highest bidder in order to televise a national telethon (an Americathon, if you will) in order to raise the money. 

This premise should have been a launching point for the kind of ensemble sketch comedy that Israel showed some talent with in his previous film, TUNNEL VISION. Instead, we get subplots involving the telethon's hapless producer (Peter Reigert) and a  sabotage attempt by a coalition of Arab states and Israel (called the United Herab Republic) who want to own the US once it's foreclosed upon. 

Israel fumbles the ball here at every opportunity. The cast tries hard but it has no chance when fighting against the leaden pacing and obvious jokes. The one bright spot is Zane Buzby as Mouling Jackson, a Vietnamese punk rocker with whom the President becomes infatuated. Her performance has an energy and excitement the rest of the film lacks. It's a shame the movie is such a dud since the subject matter is certainly topical. It could have had a new lease on life if it were just, you know, funny. 

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