Proud American

Movie Information

The Story: A series of supposedly “based on a true story” vignettes mixed with a travelogue, all of which is supposed to illuminate the greatness of America. The Lowdown: An inept, low-budget, poorly acted attempt at patriotic flag-waving that would be more at home on public access TV than in theaters.
Score:

Genre: Low-Budget Docu-Drama
Director: Fred Ashman
Starring: Ken Howard, Jonathan Banks, Dennis Haskins, Marc McClure, Yakov Smirnoff
Rated: PG

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.

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13 thoughts on “Proud American

  1. Justin Souther

    this movie cost over $5 million to make.

    I’m not sure what they spent it on. And I kind of doubt Mr. Smirnoff costs all that much these days.

    On the bright side, if that is indeed the case (and if you don’t count the money spent on prints and advertising), it’s only $4,904,000 to go until they’re in the black.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Is it worth seeing ironically?

    I have only seen bits and pieces of it, but I’d say probably not. I’m also doubtful it’d be worth the rush, since it will be gone from its local screen by Friday a.m. Now, the upside to seeing it would be that you’ll almost certainly have the theater to yourself. In the past two days, it’s played to empty houses.

  3. Louis

    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.

    Inside a vacuum, no doubt your review of this “product” is spot on.

    It’s apropos that you mention economics because it, of course, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The previous weekend–9/5/08–was the worst weekend revenue total for movies since 2001. It’s hard to know if it’s the chicken or the egg? The economy’s looming financial insecurities leading to shy movie goers or a case of inferior product. Or, perhaps both?

  4. Justin Souther

    Is it worth seeing ironically?

    No, but maybe sardonically.

    It’s hard to know if it’s the chicken or the egg? The economy’s looming financial insecurities leading to shy movie goers or a case of inferior product. Or, perhaps both?

    It does bring up a question — with the economy in the shape is appears to be in — whether or not people are all that interested in watching a movie about how America’s the land of plenty.

    I have no idea, personally, though my gut tells me people have stayed away simply because the movie’s terrible.

  5. Ken Hanke

    If the very few exit remarks I’ve heard (face it, almost no one’s gone to see it) are any indication, the fact that it’s terrible probably weighs against it. (Being terrible isn’t always an indication of empty theaters, e.g., Alvin and the Chipmunks.) Then again, the fact that the poster itself has logos for MasterCard, McDonald’s, American Airlines and Wal-Mart on it as sponsors (even though they had no input into the content, they say) probably isn’t helping matters.

  6. LA PA worker

    no one liked the Carlos scene….”give it to me straight, Doc”???….
    a line not uttered in a film since the sixties.

  7. Ken Hanke

    Well, personally, I want better cliches than that, but I bailed on the movie before the scene in question, I think. Now, if it had been something like, “I told you no buzzard like you would ever put any cuffs on me,” I’d more likely go for it.

    If we take Justin out of the mix and the two people who thought they’d gone to see Righteous Kill (that someone equates that title with Proud American is a little troubling), I think something in the neighborhood of 11 people saw this film locally, so there’s not room for a lot of input.

  8. Justin Souther

    Now, if it had been something like, “I told you no buzzard like you would ever put any cuffs on me,” I’d more likely go for it.

    How about, “What good is a saxophone without you?”

    I think something in the neighborhood of 11 people saw this film locally

    I guess I can be proud in some backwards way that more people have read my review in town than watched the movie. Mix that with the fact that I’m an American and guess the film accomplished something.

  9. Ken Hanke

    I guess I can be proud in some backwards way that more people have read my review in town than watched the movie. Mix that with the fact that I’m an American and guess the film accomplished something.

    Perhaps this story can be in the sequel!

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