The Web site for Proud American—the new movie sponsored by Coca-Cola, Master Card, American Airlines and Wal-Mart—states that the film’s purpose is to illuminate how “America’s success is molded” through “opportunity, personal responsibility, and the free enterprise system.” For the purposes of irony, it should be pointed out that Proud American had the worst opening weekend of any movie in the last 26 years, as well as the worst per-theater average, making a measly $180 per screen. Heck, even Pootie Tang made more than two grand per theater when it opened seven years ago.
Now, I’m no expert when it comes to economics, but this would seem to be a case of the supply—in this case, treacly, syrupy, poorly made love letters to capitalism—not meeting the demand, which appears nearly nonexistent. It’s not hard to see why, since it’s a movie chock full of corny acting (by such luminaries as Mr. Belding from Saved By The Bell (Dennis Haskins) and the guy from White Shadow (Ken Howard), cheesy scripting and production values that make old episodes of Star Trek look downright elegant.
The gist of the film is to tell supposedly true stories about what makes America great, involving the downtrodden pulling themselves up by the bootstraps and making something of themselves. The problem with this approach—aside from each story’s accompanying tacky power ballad (with lyrics like “Freedom isn’t free”) that would make Barry Manilow cringe—is that Ashman constantly undermines himself in the process. For instance, the opening story involves a young Vietnamese immigrant (Jane Le) who inevitably just makes average Americans look like racist morons who are totally ignorant of American history.
At the same time, we get the ham-fisted, histrionic, stereotype-laden tale of a young African-American lad (Terrance Hardy) living in some nondescript inner city, who spends the bulk of his day running from people attempting to steal his saxophone, and whose best friend has joined a gang. The tale of this kid’s dream of becoming a doctor and struggling to afford college—which takes forever since Ashman has no concept of pacing—fails to acknowledge that there just might be some socio-economic issues involved with this character living in poverty, unable to pay for school without working fulltime and the values the movie chooses to exalt.
In between stories, the film gives way to the world of travelogue, with sweeping helicopter shots of epic desert vistas and human-interest stories involving small-town business owners. The issue with this is that Ashman gets stuck comparing his corporate sponsors to the self-employed, with the message being that, sure, maybe Wal-Mart has some shifty business practices, but 40 years ago, they were just good ol’ boys like you and me. In Ashman’s simplistic, black-and-white view of the world, the truly proud American is the one with more money than God.
But regardless of its sometimes specious message, Proud American is still a tasteless, manipulative, threadbare mess of a movie. It’s so bad that it even includes the comic stylings of Yakov Smirnoff (yes, that Yakov Smirnoff), who somehow manages to not be the worst part of the film. Rated PG for some mild thematic elements.