The unapologetically absurd spoof - brought to you by the writer/director team of the equally ridiculous parody Poolboy: Drowning Out the Fury - screened this past week at the Phoenix Film Festival, in conjunction with the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival. Here, the film showed to its best advantage: at the last timeslot of the night, to theatres packed with guffawing super-fans in ironically obscure Threadless t-shirts. It is an often juvenile and historically ludicrous ode to one of our nation's great presidents, but not without its own oddly optimistic air of old-fashioned, aw-shucks patriotism. In fact, with a few bleeps and Photoshopped modesty-tops, the Texas public school system may just have a presidential biopic its Board of Education can approve.
FDR: American Badass
follows the triumphs and obstacles of 32nd President of the United States Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Sort of. In this version, he is restricted to a wheelchair after
. But this is only the beginning: Soon, the werewolf triumvirate that is Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito (the original Axis of Evil) combine forces, and FDR must lead the nation to war. Hitler plots his conquering trek across Europe, Hirohito sets his sights on China, and Mussolini prepares to invade Ethiopia("ein bitch move," as Hitler puts it
, followed, historically, by ein even more bitch defeat).
Each of the three historical villains are portrayed like outlandish caricatures of racial and ethnic stereotypes. Their accents are over-the-top ridiculous, with Hirohito - whom we come upon in one scene practicing tossing shrimp into his teppanyaki chef's hat - going so far as to pronounce all l's as r's (and you thought that was played out even as ironic self-reflexivity? nope, apparently not). Mussolini (who answers the phone, "That's amore!") is supported by a cast of zoot-suited werewolves doing over-the-top imitations of mafia goons, while Hitler is caught playing beer pong with the kind of busty German wenches that still grace the labels of imports today.
Where the Axis baddies cross so boldly over the line of good taste, the construction of Eleanor Roosevelt is bizarrely tame. She is sweet and adorable - like your grandma with a plate of fresh-baked cookies - as she coos over her beloved husband. True, her greatest relevance to the plot is in refusing to sleep in the same bed with FDR after polio turns his legs into "two shriveled-up hot dogs," but if there is any awareness in this moment of either the real or rumored Eleanor Roosevelt, the woman who once told her daughter that sex was "an ordeal to be borne" (and who, according to popular gossip, could scarce deal with one shriveled-up hot dog in the bed, let alone three!) then it is the subtlest thing in the entire film.
It goes without saying that cult-darling Barry Bostwick is fantastic as FDR, but the film's real breakout star is writer Ross Patterson (who also wrote and starred in the 2009 short Three Matthew McConaugheys and a Baby). Patterson appears as ostentatious Southern gentleman - and registered "Repube," as he says - Cleavon Buford, whom FDR befriends on a campaign stop and goes on to appoint the first ever hot-tub czar. Patterson's brilliant physical comedy, with a lazy limp and martini glass always in hand, is one of the best things about the movie.
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FDR: American Badass is a quintessential cult film: unbelievably silly yet undeniably light-hearted, best taken with a spoonful of salt. Gather your least judgmental friends and a spread of sips and snacks, however, and it could easily make for one memorable movie night.