July 4th is here and that means its time to light those fireworks, boil them hotdogs in Samuel Adams and pull out your favorite film to celebrate this wonderful holiday. Or, if you’re feeling brave, guzzle down some vodka and pop in Uncle Sam, because there is no mere mortal alive who could possibly stomach watching this movie without at least a blood alcohol content of %0.1. This film has all the shit; bad writing, bad acting, bad directing, bad lighting and very bad pacing. What makes it such a shame is that the concept of a murderous Uncle Sam is intriguing enough to make me want to watch it. Little did I know that I would be so frustrated by the end of the screening that I felt the need to kill my Border’s son and wrap the remains in an American Flag*. It’s enough for me to open my door and shout out to the streets, “I hate you, Uncle Sam!”
Why do I knock this film so much when I’ve given brownie points to Ice Cream Man and Monsters Crash the Pajama Party? After all, these movies suffer from bad writing, acting, directing, lighting and pacing too. Well, the answer is that Uncle Sam wasn’t entertaining. What made those films good was their level of slap-in-the-face absurdity. Bad films are fun to ridicule, the more absurd the film is the better. Whether its level of absurdity is accidental (like in The Room) or completely on purpose (like in the Rocky Horror Picture Show), you get the feeling that the filmmakers had such passion while making it, the experience of watching it becomes enjoyable. Although there are a few occasions in Uncle Sam where you almost feel like the filmmakers are cutting lose and having fun, it does nothing to live up to its full potential of silliness. The majority of the film is slow and vapid, making it a complete waste of my time. Because watching this movie made me feel like an asshole, I’m going to tear it a new one.
Just for fun, let’s talk about what makes this a bad film. All the characters are idiots and frequently behave in inconsistent ways. The protagonist is a young man named Jody (who the hell names their son ‘Jody’?!) who is in love with his Uncle Sam Harper, who was gunned down by friendly fire in Desert Storm. Jody won’t shut the fuck up about how heroic his Uncle was and how he wants to grow up to be just like him. However, it turns out that Sam was actually a cruel individual, who verbally and physically abused his family and friends every chance he had. Jody’s fascination with Sam puzzles me. I understand Jody barely knew his uncle and never got the brunt of his cruelty, but why does he feel so attached to someone he doesn’t know? He even goes so far as to defend Sam when people talk about how cruel of a person he was in life, proclaiming he doesn’t “believe” what they are saying. This kid’s one-dimensional personality annoyed the hell out of me so much that I couldn’t help but punch the TV screen every time it showed his smug face. And now my fist hurts. Thanks Jody.
A good example of a character behaving inconsistent and idiotic is Jody’s mother. She offers to keep Sam’s body in her house until the funeral when Sam’s wife expresses a fear of having it in her house. I don’t blame her; after all, Sam was verbally and physically abusive. She also implies he was sexually abusive. But then why does Jody’s Mom agree to keep it? Can’t they keep the body at the funeral parlor? Unless she was holding a procession at her house, there’s no reason for her to keep the body of a madman in her living room, even if they were siblings. You’d think she would hate to have Sam’s body there, given their violent history. This is bad enough, but the most inconsistent and idiotic character of them all is the Monster. Sam’s body is sent back to his hometown, where for some unexplained reason he is brought back to life to wreak havoc on the unpatriotic citizens. I can believe a story about a zombie ex soldier killing the unpatriotic. But Sam is embittered by his death and subsequently, his experience in the army. The moment he is gunned down, he shoots a fellow soldier who tries to help him just to deliver the witty quip “Don’t worry, it’s only friendly fire”. He even tries to kill Isaac Hayes (yes, the late Mr. Hayes is in this film) for inspiring him to join the army in the first place. If he regrets taking part in defending his country, then why does he go out of his way to kill people who disrespect it? I don’t mind my antagonist doing crazy things; I just hate having to ask myself these questions and never having them answered at the end of the film. I never had to raise my eyebrow at why Freddy Krueger did anything. Or the shark from Jaws.
The technical aspects are also atrocious. Just about every scene has the worst use of voice over ADR put to film. If I had a dollar for every moment I saw someone’s voice completely off sync, I’d be able to buy a new Cannula for my embalming machine. There were technical problems for every department in this movie; The pants on Uncle Sam’s costume changes, wires are clearly visible for stunts, but these particular problems didn’t bother me nearly as much as the ADR. Bad ADR is a pet peeve of mine. watching this movie feels like watching an episode of Speed Racer.
I could forgive all these problems, so long as the film was funny and entertaining enough. Monty Python didn’t make sense either. But Monty Python made me laugh. Uncle Sam is billed as a comedy horror, but there was only one sequence in the movie that made me laugh, and none that made me afraid. That sequence is toward the end, when Uncle Sam sabotages the town’s fireworks to murder a bunch of people. I loved watching the families flee in terror as fireworks were shot off into the air. Some time during this sequence, Sam impales a man on an American Flag. That made me chuckle too. But besides that, there were absolutely no funny jokes, not even dark ones. I’d say all this film needs is a few more ridiculous sequences to get a pass. When I see a gimmicky cult movie, I want it to milk the hell out of its gimmick. The writer of this film is Larry Cohen, the writer/director of It’s Alive. I was shocked to learn this because Larry Cohen is usually very good at milking his gimmicks. His resume encompasses such movies as Phone Booth and Cellular and he’s directed the best Masters of Horror episode ever made. I only bring this up to emphasize a powerful lesson I have to re-learn once or twice a year; good filmmakers can make bad movies. It makes me wonder how different the script may have been from the final cut.
You wanna know the worst of it all this? This film just had a Blueray DVD release. That’s right, in case VHS or DVD is just not good enough, you can now watch Uncle Sam in clear crisp High Definition. Why the fuck hasn’t this movie disappeared into the anus cracks of cinema mediocrity? Look, I can appreciate those out there who were suckered into buying Uncle Sam as kids and now that 14 years have gone by, they keep a copy to capture some of their lost childhood. But I’ve been on this planet for over 800 years and I’ve haunted many houses in my time. I guess I’m just tired of seeing films that don’t do anything. This film did nothing to build from the basic idea that a man dressed as Uncle Sam kills people, offering absolutely nothing new to the genre. I watch films for the same reason I kill people, to have fun. I want to see the passion in my movies that I see in the eyes of my desperate victims. Wasting time on a bad movie is like taking a sip of blood and realizing you’ve just accidentally filled your mouth with fresh clamato juice.
*I couldn’t find a flag, so I poisoned the brat and dressed him up in a little Benjamin Franklin suit and hid him in the closet of his neighbor. I can’t wait to see how Mr. Trumble explains THAT to the police.