In David Zucker's flat-footed would-be satire An American Carol, a porky documentarian modeled on Michael Moore (Kevin Farley) sees the light after visitations by ghosts of conservatism past. Zucker, whose résumé runs from Airplane! and The Naked Gun through the last two entries in the Scary Movie series, has never shown much interest in big-screen politics, and his gag-driven style doesn't adapt particularly well to political humor. There's only so much wackiness to be mined from suicide-bomber jokes.
Zucker co-wrote An American Carol with Myrna Sokoloff and Lewis Friedman, tasking the former with plot and the latter with jokes, which explains why the movie seems to be so often at cross-purposes, attempting to wring laughs out of hysterical exaggerations and ponderous lectures. It's like watching an improv comedy group whose premises consist entirely of Republican talking points. "Neville Chamberlin is signing away the Sudetenland — go!" (Zucker and Sokoloff have tried their hand at this particular illustration of Godwin's Law before, in a 2006 campaign ad that proved too extreme for the Republican National Committee.)
What makes An American Carol overtly depressing rather than merely lame is its allegiance to a diseased political discourse built on crude dichotomies: Either you're a bellicose, God-fearing patriot or a troop-hating, traitorous hippie. Before the spirits of George S. Patton (Kelsey Grammer), George Washington (Jon Voight) and J.F.K. (Chriss Anglin) show up to teach him a lesson, Farley, whose films include Die, You American Pigs and No Country for Anyone, is enthusiastically planning a rally to abolish the Fourth Of July. In the movie's Manichean universe, as so often on the campaign trail, there's no way to question the tactics of the war on terror without opposing its overarching strategy. When a group of Afghan jihadists led by Robert Davi ask to retain Farley's services, he's more than willing to sell out, so long as the money's right.
As in the joke about hell having the best house band, it's often assumed that good political humor always comes from the left, a stereotype An American Carol does nothing to disprove. But great satire never fits neatly within an ideological box. Attention, the ghosts of H.L. Mencken, Stanley Kubrick, and Jonathan Swift: David Zucker could use a visit.