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Patriotism at its most awkward

It's not every short preceding a feature that garners attention on its own accord, but there it is in the official literature: "Chelsea on the Rocks (Preceded by To Kill an American, Director: Matthew Modine)." Obviously it's the semi-famous actor at the helm rather than the three-minute film itself earning the mention, but with such a pedigree and the promise of oh-so-intriguing violence, interest is piqued either way.

Unfortunately, what unspools is the caliber of those Saturday-morning "The More You Know" PSAs at best and laughably heavy-handed at worst. American begins with the message, "There are people in the world that don't like Americans. There are people in the world that want to kill Americans. This film is designed to help those would-be killers identify an American. So they know exactly what an American is," promising a combination of insight and levity. But the humor never arrives, and the insight remains in short supply. Instead a series of multi-cultural talking heads (including Modine) recite brief lines (scripted by Modine) concerning race, religion and how Americans are "the embodiment of the human spirit of freedom … America is not a place. America is a dream; it's an idea." A decent enough message, to be sure, even if it's grievously over-simplified and clumsily executed. Blatant festival bait American is; groundbreaking filmmaking, however, it certainly is not.

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Julie Seabaugh

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