Mister America could be the “nichiest” project ever made and, yes, I’m including Kevin Smith’s upcoming Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. But more importantly, Mister America is the level of Trump era satire we’ve been waiting for.
Mister America is the latest extension of the On Cinema universe, a narrative that has evolved from its early days as Adult Swim web series On Cinema at the Cinema. The show, currently on its 11th season, features actors Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington (playing heightened versions of themselves) recapping theatrical new releases and rating them on a scale of “bags of popcorn”. Underneath the show’s motive has been an off-camera story about Tim’s fascinations with alternative medicine and right-wing politics – obsessions that infuriate Turkington and have derailed the program numerous times. The program has been used to promote Heidecker’s “side gigs” as well, including an Avenged Sevenfold-inspired rock band called Dekkar (which then transitioned into an EDM experience titled DKR) and an action series titled Decker (which had its own failed spinoff titled Decker vs. Dracula).
The show reached dire straits when Heidecker (reminder: playing a heightened version of himself) was faced with counts of murder and manslaughter after his Electric Sun Music Festival claimed the lives of multiple people who had overdosed on a peculiar vape substance. The trial resulted in a hung jury and Heidecker hinting that he had an interest in running for district attorney. Even though he was acquitted of the charges and the jail sentence, Tim still has sour grapes over the “behaviour” exhibited by current D.A Vincent Rosetti (Don Pecchia). For Tim, Mister America is a documentary that’s supposed to chronicle his masterful campaigning and his inevitable win, but the real movie is a political mockumentary chronicling the shyster’s attempt to be featured on the ballot.
I have absolutely no idea how Mister America will play for those unaware of the aforementioned history (although Adult Swim currently features a brilliant 10-minute recap that should be required viewing for anyone going into this film). But, fans who have been chomping at every last bit Heidecker and Turkington have created for the On Cinema narrative will undoubtably fall for this companion piece.
Presenting itself as a coincidental comedic take on this year’s Steve Bannon doc The Brink, Mister America deals with dry absurdist humour in a mundane field; essentially finding that tonal middle ground between the original version of The Office (UK) and its American remake. In the film, Heidecker reads out outrageous requests for his campaign manager, Toni (Terri Parks, often looking like she’s holding back laughter), with a solid poker face while also exhibiting buffoonish behaviour like having a bad habit of tripping over rotary telephones, bungling his social media presence, and boasting about his campaign office (which is run out of a hotel, most likely unbeknownst to the staff). Turkington shows up occasionally to discredit Tim’s campaign, which turns into a full-fledged dish on why Heidecker is a walking mockery. Yet, whenever he’s on screen, Gregg is constantly shifting the focus of the documentary on his film expertise – constantly arranging meetings in shooting locations of obscure films to boast, repeatedly comparing Tim’s campaign to the plot of Disney’s The Shaggy D.A..
That’s the second time I’ve referred to characters boasting in the film, but that’s because Mister America is about snivelling characters willing to step on other people to succeed or appear inferior. The constant bickering between Tim and Gregg is a staple of On Cinema, but by having Mister America juxtapose it in the context of local politics gives the desperation new legs to stand on. Tim’s antagonizing behaviour is especially timely as he uses intimidating tactics (like trying to coin slanderous name-calling) to progress his campaigning. The only difference between On Cinema Tim and Mister America Tim is that the former rallies hard against minorities and inclusivity. While there’s some of that dark humour in Mister America, it’s kept brief only to keep in touch with the universe’s continuity. Probably because Heidecker, Turkington, and co-writer/director Eric Notarnicola are aware that casual racism used for comedy has grown tacky, and they know there are more clever ways to earn laughs.
Mister America may be an 80-some-odd-minute in-joke but, if you’re *in* on it, it’s a really good time.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie