New conservative movie 'American Carol' tries to show Hollywood who's right
They meet discreetly once a month at a restaurantin the Valley. At first, there weren’t many–Jon Voight, KelseyGrammer, Dennis Hopper–but now…there still aren’t many. Nevertheless,they’re a resolute bunch: proud, loud, and a little lonely. They areHollywood’s conservatives. “You sort of feel like you have to hide it,”says director David Zucker. “When you meet, you give each other asecret look–‘Are you a Republican too?’ It’s the new gay.”
On Oct. 3, Zucker and his lunchmates will outthemselves when An American Carol, Hollywood’s first unabashedlyright-wing comedy, opens in 2,000 theaters. Think Dickens’ holidayclassic, spun by Pat Buchanan and infused with the gleeful absurdismZucker and his brother Jerry (a Democrat) used in ’80s comedytouchstones like Airplane! and Naked Gun. Voight plays the spirit ofGeorge Washington, Grammer stars as George Patton’s ghost, and Hopperportrays a conservative judge who picks off zombie ACLU lawyers with ashotgun. In the Scrooge role is Kevin Farley (younger brother of latecomedian Chris) as a slobby documentarian-named Michael Malone, forthose who need to be hit over the head–who bah-humbugs the Fourth ofJuly. Until, that is, Washington takes him to the World Trade Centerafter 9/11 and converts him into a patriot.
“Most political comedies say both sides are bad,”says Zucker. “We’re saying, F— it. We’re taking a side.” Indeed,there is shtick in this flick that would offend even a pig in lipstick.There’s a jaw-dropping spoof of suicide-bomber training videos, and abit about “radical Christians” hijacking planes with weaponizedcrucifixes. Like Oliver Stone’s W., which opens two weeks later, Carolcould be an October surprise that ignites huge controversy just beforethe election–or it could be ignored by moviegoers of both parties.
Zucker’s politics are slightly more nuanced than hismovie’s. He’s pro-choice and a Sarah Palin fan; he drives a Prius yetsupports a party whose conventioneers chant “drill, baby, drill.” Likea few of his lunch buddies–Hopper, for instance–he started on the otherside of the aisle. After 9/11, he switched parties due to what he sawas Democratic dithering. So he shot anti-John Kerry spots for the Bushcampaign, which is when he hit on the idea for Carol. Not that hebothered pitching it to the studios. “There’s no way they would havegone near it,” he believes. “You go to meetings and everybody istalking about how Bush is an idiot. It’s part of the environment ofthis town.”
Still, even in Hollywood, Republicans are pretty goodat raising money, and Zucker got $20 million from Mpower Pictures,which Passion of the Christ producer Stephen McEveety founded lastyear. Casting was a snap–Zucker’s lunch pals filled most major parts,along with tinier ones (look for Gary Coleman as a plantation slave).He wanted Dan Whitney (Larry the Cable Guy) or Wayne Knight (Newman onSeinfeld) to play Malone, but they weren’t available. Then Zucker sawFarley on an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm and set up ameeting–despite knowing nothing about his leanings. “He asked about mypolitics,” Farley recalls. “I said to myself, ‘Okay, this is where Ilose the job,’ and told him that I was a longtime conservative.”
Not everybody in Carol is a Republican–“I’m prettysure David Alan Grier was appalled,” says Zucker–but most were clearlyenergized by the esprit de Goldwater. “When George Washington takes himto the World Trade Center, it made me cry,” says Grammer. “A lot ofpeople don’t want to admit that a threat to this country exists. We’rewilling to admit it.” And to make outrageously over-the-top jokes aboutit, including a gag about how Hollywood is renamed “Bin Laden Land”after the terrorists “win.” Just how willing moviegoers will be to payto go see Carol, especially in neighborhoods like Zucker’s andGrammer’s, remains to be seen. Whatever happens, though, there willalways be a place for conservatism in Hollywood–at a restaurant way outin the Valley. –Benjamin Svetkey
To watch the trailer for An American Carol, click here. And be sure to check out EW’s recent presidential pop-culture debate between John McCain and Barack Obama.