He Watched It Sober.

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          "I loaned the government $400 billion. Now I want the $400 billion back. Does that make me a bad guy? I've got to eat, too."

-- Sam Birdwater     




Gonzoid Cinema




Mouse Over Image:

Jay Leno takes one for the team. Yikes! No wonder they called him Poopie- Butt! 

At least we finally figured out what happened to his voice.


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Sights &
  Neal Israel
  Phil Proctor
  Peter Berman
  Neal Israel
  Monica Johnson
  Michael Mislove
  Joe Roth

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Our film takes place in what we in the comic book world like to term an alternate universe. And there, like here, back in the late 1970’s, America was in the grip of an energy crisis and running out of fuel. Here, we eventually recovered. There, things didn’t turn out quite so nice:

In this alternate reality, the Muslims and the Jews put aside their differences and formed the United Hebrab Republic and never lifted the embargo; China became a capitalist state and kicked Russia’s ass in a nuclear war; Vietnam became the new hotspot of tourism and gambling, rivaling even the French Riviera. (Which was now, along with most of Europe and Africa, part of the Hebrab Republic.) As a country, America was nozzle-whipped, and when all the cars stopped moving and were eventually turned into low-income housing units, people either walked, jogged or biked to their destinations, and what little energy was produced was expended on the one thing vital to America’s survival -- television.

Eventually, the American people revolted against the government and lynched then President Carter and his most snotty cabinet members. After the bloody coup, the country was in turmoil for almost twenty years, surviving on borrowed money. To right the floundering ship, a new leader was needed with the toughness of Teddy Roosevelt and the leadership of FDR, but what they got was Chet Roosevelt (John Ritter), a scientologist, and a firm believer in the primal grope therapy, whose only real qualification was his last name. And when Chet wins in a landslide with his "I’m not a schmuck" platform, his first order of business is to try and get the country out of debt. 

Over the years, America’s richest man, Sam Birdwater (Chief Dan George), had loaned the government 400-billion dollars, and now he wants it back. Birdwater made his billions by cashing in on the fad of clown shoes and designer roller skates; and his company, NIKE (National Indian Knitting Enterprises), seems to be the only manufacturer left because everyone’s clothes bear the NIKE logo. (Strange foreshadowing, there, in the late '70s.) And now, he's given President Chet just thirty days to cough it up or the loan is in default. The only problem is, Chet is more worried about everyone’s cosmic balance and getting his secretary, Lucy (Nancy Morgan), back in the sack than the country's financial stability. Leaving most of the major decisions up to Vince Vanderhoff, his Chief of Staff (Fred Willard), he and the rest of the Cabinet try to raise the necessary money by having a marihuana smoke-off and a win a date with the Secretary of Agriculture competition -- they even filled the Statue of Liberty with jellybeans for a "Guess how many" contest. Obviously, none of them work. Out of ideas, Vanderhoff brings in Eric McMurkin (Peter Reigert), a former TV exec, to help out. As they brainstorm, while President Chet wants to hold a raffle for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, McMurkin shoots it down, saying raffles don’t work on TV, and suggests they should try a telethon instead. Chet loves the idea, and quickly tweaks into the Americathon: a plea to the American people for donations to help save the country.

Meanwhile, worried that the government won’t be able to come up with the money, and he’ll be stuck with the worthless collateral (-- the good ole’ U.S. of A.), Birdwater is assured by Vanderhoff that he represents a certain party that would gladly take all that land off his hands when the loan goes into default. Turns out the Hebrabs are his hidden backers, and Vanderhoff guarantees that with his sabotaging, the Americathon won’t work and the country is as good as theirs. But just in case, the Hebrabs will have an elite commando assassination squad on call if he needs more help.

Vanderhoff’s tinkering starts at the top when he’ll only clear Monte Rushmore (Harvey Korman), a cross-dressing cocaine addict, to be the host, and the only acts he’ll allow are stodgy ventriloquists. And as the thirty-day long telethon kicks off with a wild musical number, the chemically altered Monte believes the Americathon is his ticket back to stardom, and it will only go as far as he (and his briefcase full of drugs) can take it. But despite his efforts and antics, the telethon doesn't go over very well. As the money barely trickles in, the show does get a small boost when Vietnamese Puke Rocker, Mu Ling Jackson (Zane Buzby), performs. Watching all this in the First Bedroom, when Lucy suggests they go to the studio and help out, Chet thinks that's a great idea -- but the reason he really wants to go along is to try that primal grope therapy thing on Mu Ling.

By the seventh day, the Americathon has fallen over 70-billion behind all projected goals. Meeting with Chet and Vanderhoff, Monte and McMurkin demand that they start livening up the acts or they might as well quit. Despite Vanderhoff’s protests, when Chet allows McMurkin to get creative, his first act finds Oklahoma Roy Perkins (Meatloaf), the world’s greatest daredevil, in full gladiator gear, battling the last running car in America. And after a rousing battle, as Roy slays the car, the phones start ringing off the hook. During the carnage, Chet finally catches up with Mu Ling and sets up a sexual rendezvous. Not realizing that Lucy overheard them, when Chet encourages her to stay and help with the telethon while he leaves for an "important meeting" she agrees and sets her scorned sights on McMurkin.

As the money keeps rolling in, Monte happily announces that England, the 57th state, is the first to meet the $1000 per-person goal, and that San Diego has been sold back to Mexico for another huge chunk of change. Watching all of this, the Hebrabs are starting to get worried and send their commandos in to disrupt the show. And after they manage to sneak in and destroy several vital pieces of equipment, the Americathon is forced off the air for five whole days while waiting for replacement parts from China.

During the interim, Monte’s megalomania starts to get the better of him (-- and he’s running low on drugs). When they finally get back on the air, with a lot of ground to make up, the acts start getting a little wilder and a lot more weirder. Like when Tommy Lasorda does the play by play for boxing match between Poopie Butt (Jay Leno) and his mother, and Poopie-Butt gets his ass kicked. These strange acts help, but eventually, the money flow starts tapering off again. Not taking any chances, the Hebrab commandos strike again, kidnapping President Chet and Mu Ling from the First Bedroom. When Monte announces their ransom demands live on TV, the plan backfires because the rest of Chet’s cabinet can’t stand his primal groping butt. Again, Vanderhoff is outvoted, and when they refuse to pay the ransom, Monte announces that America still won’t deal with the terrorists and the Americathon will continue -- because President Chet would have wanted that way.

Then, the show picks up some much-needed steam when a pint of Oklahoma Roy’s blood goes up for auction. As the phones go crazy, Monte grabs McMurkin and pleads that if the audience wants more blood, could they, maybe, possibly, I don't know, kill somebody to boost the donations? Having had enough of Monte's escalating ego, and the show, McMurkin leaves with Lucy in tow. Together, they go back to his house -- a roomy hatchback -- and do the horizontal bop in the back-seat/bedroom. (Watch out for that stick shift!)

More time passes and, by the 27th day, Monte is out of drugs, and without McMurkin the acts are going nowhere. And as they fall farther and farther behind their projected goal, Monte has a nervous breakdown on stage and collapses. While he recovers, the telethon continues to limps along without him. Then, on the last day, they are just 40-billion dollars short, and somehow, Monte gets McMurkin to come back and get them over this final financial hump. Also, feeling it’s too close to call, the Hebrabs send the commando squad to assassinate both McMurkin and Monte. With precious time ticking by, just as Monte returns to the camera and pleads for more money, the commandos arrive and chase McMurkin onto the stage. They shoot at him but hit Monte instead, and as security subdues the terrorists, a deathly quiet falls over the studio audience ... that slowly gives way to the rising crescendo of ringing telephones!

Monte was right, McMurkin muses; they do want to see somebody die, and comments further if that was all it took, he would have shot Monte himself a long time ago. His wound is superficial but Monte milks it, claiming to the public that it is fatal, and, if they love him, to send all their money. Now! Before it's too late!

As the clock winds down, the donation totals skyrocket up. But, in the end, the Americathon winds up just $88,000 short. Aghast, Monte chastises the audience for letting him down. And when Birdwater shows up, Monte berates him, too, telling him to take everything; it’s all his now. But Birdwater congratulates Monte on a great show and gives him a personal check for $100,000, pushing them over the top. 

America is saved.

The End

Well, not quite: Vanderhoff frees Chet and Mu Ling, and they all go to Vietnam and start a Disco Cult; McMurkin and Lucy get married, and move into a station wagon; and Monte? Well, Monte went straight to the loony bin.

The End

For those of us that can remember back that far -- and sweet jeezus am I getting old -- back in 1978, America was in the midst of an oil embargo and an energy crisis that makes the $2.00 gas hike we had during the summer of 2000 a mere nuisance. Eventually, this embargo was lifted, Reaganonomics took over, and the oil flowed in, resulting, eventually, into SUV’s and soccer moms. (OPEC’s revenge? You be the judge.)

Americathon is strangely prophetic in some instances (-- like the whole Nike casual wear thing), and if nothing else, it shows us our priorities haven’t changed a whole lot in the last twenty years. Based on a play written to satirize the efforts to save a near bankrupt New York City in the late 1970's, when translated to film, the producers decided to try and save everybody. Alas, despite these noble intentions, it's a one-joke movie that everyone proceeds to beat with bats and hammers for the full 98 minutes. It manages a few laughs along the way, but by the end the premise is long dead.

I think my favorite part of Americathon is Harvey Korman’s tour de force performance as Monte Rushmore. His megalomania is only matched by his paranoia and bloated sense of self worth. There’s a great running gag he has with a Shirley Temple clone, who winds up stealing his toupee after he’s shot. But my favorite scene is when they are falling way behind on donations, and when a kid whose skateboarded across the country collecting donations arrives, Harvey welcomes the bruised and tired kid with a hug. But when it's revealed that he only collected about $36 bucks in change, Monte screams at him, and then shoves him off the stage where he crashes in a heap.

So yeah, there are some genuinely funny moments in Americathon, but a lot of it comes off as kinda shtickie. Looking at it today, the absurd stuff still comes off as funny, while other jokes are pretty dated and won’t make a whole lot of sense if you’re under twenty. But, for those of you in the proper and appropriate age bracket, however, you will probably find more than a few yuks at the film's expense.

Originally Posted: 08/12/00 :: Rehashed: 05/21/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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