Netflix’s America: The Motion Picture is immediately insufferable. It is an assault on all of one’s senses: Sight, sound, taste, even smell, somehow. It is obnoxious, overlong, annoying and, above all, deeply unfunny for an ambitious, animated comedy/sci-fi film produced by Lego Movie and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ingenues Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. American: The Motion Picture sees Matt Thompson (Archer) directing his feature debut from a script by writer Dave Callaham (Wonder Woman 1984, Doom). It’s hard to discern exactly how and why a purported “comedy” film produced by two of the most inventive animation directors working, directed by one of the people behind one of the most popular comedy animated series on television, came to be written by a guy whose most notable works are toothless blockbusters. The product of this is a comedy that operates like it was conceived by someone used to crafting quips in place of jokes.
In a wild reinvention of the American Revolution and Founding Fathers, America: The Motion Picture tells the story of the country gaining independence from Britain. George Washington (Channing Tatum), looking to avenge the murder of his lifelong friend Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte) at the hands of werewolf Benedict Arnold (Andy Samberg), gathers up an Oceans-esque team of figures from American history. This includes Paul Revere (Bobby Moynihan), Samuel Adams (Jason Mantzoukas), a gender/race-bent Thomas Edison (Olivia Munn), and Geronimo (Raoul Max Trujillo), who must go to war against the Redcoats and their leader, King James (Simon Pegg, who navigates the world sitting atop a giant hoverboard). Haha, so random! What ensues over the course of 100 minutes is a nightmarish slog of cartoon gore, bad jokes, pop culture references and numerous outdated attempts to satirize the racist history of the United States in the most “woke” way possible that requires the least amount of critical thinking from an audience.
Actually, to qualify the film’s jokes as jokes at all is giving them too much credit—rather, the comedy of the film hinges entirely on references to things that were funny in other properties or decades. One of the film’s earlier gags has Abraham Lincoln attend a show of the “Red, White, and Blue Man Group” at Ford’s Theatre. Another of its comedy hallmarks is having characters say weird, quirky things very loudly—such as referring to the Redcoats as “the fun police,” a term that no one on the internet has used in years. All of this is tied together by its stale connective bits: Allowing old-timey guys to be vulgar, use curse words and mention/take part in modern ideas and concepts.
“Isn’t it crazy to hear Sam Adams say the word ‘cum!?’” America: The Motion Picture asks us, drool dangling from its bottom lip.
“Isn’t it so wacky to see George Washington do history stuff while Run the Jewels plays in the background?!” America: The Motion Picture begs us, pleading for an answer as it pulls mercilessly at our shirt collar until the fabric rips; all the while, blood begins to pool under our eyes.
This is all entirely separate from the crude animation, rendered as a cheap-looking episode of Thompson’s own Archer. While tolerable in 20-30 minute doses, this style of animation in feature-length form renders itself unbearable as we’re simultaneously enduring over an hour-and-a-half of Jason Mantzoukas hollering guttural variations on “Yeah, so that happened!” America: The Motion Picture seems intent not only to deprive audiences of anything moderately pleasant to look at, but to consistently provide something horrific to look at. Scenes are about as busy and excruciating as a Where’s Waldo? image populated by epic sauce history dudes holding machine guns and saying “fuck,” while the derivative nature of the alt-history narrative has already been played out better and (most importantly) more briefly, on the Comedy Central series Drunk History.
Far more interesting than anything in the film itself, however, is figuring out Callaham’s place in it. His only true foray into comedic writing amounts to the poorly-received Zombieland sequel from 2019. That gives us some insight as to why America: The Motion Picture is so anti-comedy, but not as to why a guy whose writing credits include the first Expendables movie, a story credit for 2014’s Godzilla, the recent Mortal Kombat adaptation and a handful of superhero blockbusters, was brought on to write. It’s baffling as to why a writer mostly experienced in action laden with Hollywood snark would be tasked with a script clearly meant to be 90% jokes—not a single one of which is well-executed.
Perhaps it’s due to having a co-writing credit on Lord and Miller’s impending Spider-Verse sequel, but it is interesting that in between Godzilla and Double Tap, Callaham’s resume exhibits a five-year movie gap before co-penning blockbuster after blockbuster…I say, pulling taut lines of thread across a cluttered bulletin board, my eyes bloodshot red; I have not slept in days. Of course, making a film takes a village, and no single contributor can be blamed for a poor end product that drives an audience member to the brink of insanity. So, it would simply not make sense for me to reach the conclusion that screenwriter Dave Callaham made a deal with Satan in order to get bigger writing opportunities in the film industry.
In any case, this reasonable theory mostly falls apart due to the fact that Callaham served as creator and showrunner on a similarly reference-heavy, metatextual, short-lived comedy series about Jean-Claude Van Damme during the aforementioned resumé gap. All of this is beside the point, of course. America: The Motion Picture is a particularly low point among the Netflix Originals’ notoriously varying quality, and it cannot be overstated how well one would do to avoid it—Satanic involvement or otherwise.
Director: Matt Thompson
Writer: Dave Callaham
Stars: Channing Tatum, Will Forte, Andy Samberg, Olivia Munn, Jason Mantzoukas, Simon Pegg, Bobby Moynihan, Judy Greer, Raoul Max Trujillo, Killer Mike
Release Date: June 30, 2021
Brianna Zigler is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. Her work has appeared at Little White Lies, Film School Rejects, Thrillist, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more, and she writes a bi-monthly newsletter called That’s Weird. You can follow her on Twitter, where she likes to engage in stimulating discussions on films like Movie 43, Clifford, and Watchmen.