Americathon (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Time for a telethon.

The year is 1998 and the nation is suffering from an oil shortage, which forces everyone to get around using bikes and roller skates while cars are now nothing more than immobile objects lived in by those with little money. Due to the energy crisis President Jimmy Carter and his administration are lynched by an angry mob and replaced by a young, new-wave type politician named Chet Roosevelt (John Ritter). Chet’s first order is finding a way to save the country from bankruptcy and he decides to do it by broadcasting a national telethon hosted by B-celebrity Monty Rushmore (Harvey Korman).

The film is based on a skit done by The Firesign Theatre, which was a popular satirical group that poked fun of the politics and issues of the day by performing live action stories with a stream of consciousness narrative. The group was made up of four men who wrote all of their material together and no line of dialogue, or joke was allowed to be included in their scripts unless all four of them agreed on it.

While much of what they did was original and cutting edge this movie fails to capitalize on it. I was confused as to what the intended focus of the parody was supposed to be on. It seemed to be aiming for light satire, but the references and potshots that it does take in connection to politics, television and celebrities are quite sterile and the film is in desperate need of more edginess.

The pacing is also quite poor. The characters are nothing more than broad caricatures and the plot too over-the-top to take seriously, so the emphasizes is clearly on the humor, but the jokes needed a rapid-fire delivery like in Airplane to work instead of gags that are so subtle and drawn out that you barely even notice them.

The casting is off too. John Ritter is an engaging actor, but here he displays no energy at all and comes off like he’s been tranquilized with some sort of drug. Harvey Korman is talented in a sketch comedy setting, but annoying as a lead. The film seems to be aiming for the college crowd and 20-somethings, so why cast someone like Korman, who was in his 50’s at the time, and considered completely out-of-touch with that generation?

I did like Peter Riegert, who is appealing simply because he plays the only normal person in the cast, which should’ve been enough reason to give him the most screen time, which he doesn’t get, in order to help offset the misplaced ‘zaniness’ around him. I was also confused why George Carlin narrates the film instead of Riegert since he seems to be speaking through Riegert’s character.

Out of the entire runtime there are only two segments that are actually semi-funny. One includes a bit where Meat Loaf takes on a driverless car and defeats it like a matador battling a bull. Jay Leno plays a fighter in another segment who takes part in a boxing match against his own mother who continually taunts him by calling him ‘poopy butt’. Unfortunately everything else falls flat and nothing is worse than a comedy that thinks it’s being ‘hip’ and ‘edgy’ when it really isn’t.

Strangely both IMDB and Wikipedia list Cybill Shepherd in an uncredited role as the ‘Gold Girl’, which is very brief. Although the woman playing the part certainly looks and sounds a bit like Cybill I’m convinced that it really wasn’t her.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: August 10, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Neil Israel

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

One response to “Americathon (1979)

  1. I actually like this movie from the first time I saw it. After many many years I found a copy on Amazon, and bought it. Oh yeah, it’s a classic, but one I like.
    Thanks for the revie, it treminds me that I haven’t seen it in a few months. Past time to see it again.

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