Big Shock: Critics Hate An American Carol

An American Carol, David Zucker's unabashedly pro-American, anti-left comedy, came out Friday without being screened for critics.

But movie critics pounced anyway, just a day later than normal.

Movie studios occasionally hold films back from critics. Typically, it's a sign the studio has little faith in the film or it knows the movie in question will be bombarded with negative reviews.

In Zucker's case, the lack of screenings could simply be an acknowledgment that the vast majority of film critics lean left and won't take kindly to their side being hit hard. The director himself said film critics wouldn't like the film's politics and therefore wouldn't give the film a fair shake.

The evidence bears that theory out, although even this critic found plenty at fault with the film. Some critics slammed the film fairly without attacking Zucker's politics -- or the conservative nature of the film. Others let their ideological flags flap in the breeze, professionalism be darned.

The Hollywood Reporter couldn't simply critique the movie for its purported failings. Its review played it mostly fair and balanced, but then it let loose with this doozy of a subhead: "Bottom Line: Proves once and for all that Democrats are simply funnier."

Hmmm. Hollywood has produced a grand total of one major conservative comedy and the magazine is ready to declare the debate over.

The New York Times checked in with a brief review, calling the film "mean spirited" and "lazy."

Some critics used turns of phrase they'd never utter in describing, say, a Michael Moore opus. Check out the Miami Herald's Rene Rodriguez, who calls the film one of the worst movies of all time: "It is the movie's underlying tone -- its relentless hammering on its pro-war, anti-dissent, anti-liberal message -- that makes watching it such a sour experience."

Moore's movies often hammer the right or GOP targets with a similar relentless approach. It's hard to envision any critic leveling the same charge against the Oscar-winning director. They're too busy putting his films on their "best of" lists.

And Rodriguez was one of many critics who called the film's inclusion of Ground Zero in one poignant scene offensive.

Speaking of Moore, the New York Post's left-leaning critic Lou Lumenick says Carol isn't anywhere as funny as Moore envisioning Cuba's health care system as superior to ours.

Really? Last time we checked, Sicko, the movie which did just that, earned a very healthy 93 percent approval rating over at RottenTomatoes.com, a highly trafficked site which measures the critical community's take on films. Clearly, few critics were laughing at Moore's assessment of Cuba's system, a key point in that highly regarded agitprop.

Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel, who in his blog mocked Carol guest star Bill O'Reilly's liver spots, played the redneck card in his scathing review: "Zucker, who converted his own politics in 2004, is playing to the suckers in a grand faux redneck tradition."

The Onion's own Sam Adams lambastes the film, going so far as to accuse it of simply echoing GOP crib sheets: "It's like watching an improv comedy group whose premises consist entirely of Republican talking points."

Even the few critics who praised the film couldn't help but slam its political bent.

Phil Villareal of the Arizona Daily Star calls the film "as politically relevant as Zucker's Airplane!" and writes that "the movie's political messages are as pinheaded and weak as those it attacks."

At least Variety took the film to task on practical grounds, eviscerating the film on purely movie-making terms: "But the irreverence, wit, and invention director David Zucker displayed in most of his earlier comedies are largely MIA. Comic timing is lacking, and unattractive pic has a slapdash, low-budget, backlot feel."

Cinematical, an influential film site which routinely reveals the left-wing swing of its contributors, mostly played fair with its review, too, although it calls one bit involving masculine-looking lesbians "cheap homophobia."

Frankly, left-leaning movie critics were kinder to the film than they could have been. It's likely because they don't feel threatened by it. The film opened on roughly half the number of screens than your average blockbuster gets, and that ensures whatever box office numbers it earns won't be enough to compete with the big boys.

And while actors like An American Carol's Jon Voight, Dennis Hopper, Kelsey Grammer, and James Woods are household names, they're not the type to draw in casual movie fans.

Had An American Carol offered up bigger stars, spicier laughs, or a more of-the-moment attack, like a take-down of Sen. Barack Obama, then it's hard to doubt film critics en masse would have set aside professionalism entirely and gone for the kill.