Adventures In Celluloid

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things film.

Dominic Corry: Whatever happened to Bobcat Goldthwait?

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Tara Lynne Barr, left, and Joel Murray are shown in a scene from 'God Bless America'. Photo / Supplied
Tara Lynne Barr, left, and Joel Murray are shown in a scene from 'God Bless America'. Photo / Supplied

To filmgoers of a certain age, Bobcat Goldthwait will forever be known as "the mental dude from the Police Academy movies". You know the one.

But for the past few years, he's been quietly writing and directing some of America's most gleefully subversive films, the latest of which is now playing at Auckland's Academy Theatre.

God Bless America is a jet black comedy about a terminally ill man who goes on a rampage across America, killing those he feels are responsible for the country's overall turpitude. This includes reality show stars; political TV pundits and people who talk in movies. While that last one is a problem I can very much relate to, it is pretty jarring seeing people being shot up in a cinema.

Goldthwait began his directing career in 1991 - four years after he'd last appeared in a Police Academy movie - when he wrote, directed and starred in the little-seen cult oddity Shakes The Clown. It was not a success.

He continued to get acting and voiceover work and eventually moved into regular TV directing jobs on comedy programmes like Chappelle's Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live.

In 2006, he returned to writing and directing with Stay, which is available on DVD in this country as Sleeping Dogs Lie. It was here that Goldthwait established his affinity for examining gleefully tasteless contemporary ideas in his films: the plot of Sleeping Dogs Lie concerns a couple whose relationship begins to unravel when the woman admits to once experimenting with bestiality. I think you can guess what kind of animal was involved.

It wasn't a huge hit or anything, but the film got some positive notices which lead a higher profile for Goldthwait's next effort as a writer/director, 2009's World's Greatest Dad. This starred Robin Williams as the father of a surly teenage son who dies while experimenting with auto-erotic asphyxiation. Williams' character then makes it look like a suicide, and parlays all the attention he gets into literary success.

See what I mean about his films being gleefully tasteless? Whether or not you think his movies work, you could never accuse them of pandering to anything but Goldthwait's vision.

He stays outside the studio system (though his films never look cheap) and thus remains unaccountable to the homogenising forces of modern cinema distribution. But he's not making art-house movies - these are geared toward a mainstream audience. They just happen to have the kind of uncompromising content that you'd never find in a studio film. Which you have to admire him for.

His latest effort, God Bless America, seems very much designed to provoke, and I was intrigued to discover how the story would play out.

The lead character is played by Joel Murray (Bill's brother) who'll be recognisable to Mad Men fans as poor old pants-wetter Freddy Rumsen. He's a familiar face who plays his role in God Bless America pretty solemnly, but he perks up when a teenage girl (Tara Lynne Bar) joins his cause.

The film doesn't always work, and often devolves into the main characters simply listing things that bother them. Plus a lot of what's being attacked is pretty low-hanging fruit - American Idol didn't really work as the focus of satire in 2006's American Dreamz, and it doesn't really work here. Most of what's being attacked has long qualified as self-parody.

But I admired the films dedication to being offensive - after less than three minutes we see Murray's character showered in the blood of a baby he's just blown away with a shotgun (off-screen) in a fantasy sequence. There are some other notable moments, but it's not exactly Falling Down.

It is however, the kind of medium-level film that rarely gets a cinematic release in this country. So if you're in Auckland and it sounds interesting to you, make sure you check it out on the big screen down at that stalwart of independent film distribution, The Academy.

* Will you be seeing God Bless America? Do films designed to provoke interest you? Seen any other of Bobcat Coldthwait's films? Comment below!

Follow Dominic Corry on Twitter.

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