Movie News & Reviews

'Proud American': Vignette-filled film plays up cliches

You can be all for religious tolerance, up-by-the-bootstraps enterprise and love of country and still be turned off by Proud American.

The film attempts to capture some of what makes America great but plays like something that should have been shown at one of the recent political conventions.

Writer-director Fred Ashman's debut feature — sponsored by Coca-Cola, American Airlines and Wal-Mart — consists of a dozen or so vignettes representing various aspects of the American experience. They range in length from quick blackout sketches to 15 minutes.

We're introduced to a family of Vietnamese boat people and see how their teenage daughter overcomes prejudice. A hate crime against a Jewish family brings together an entire neighborhood. A Brazilian kid joins the U.S. Navy, is seriously injured and ends up a wheelchair athlete. A youngster from Chicago's South Side goes from outrunning thugs to chasing a medical degree.

The episodes — reportedly based on real events — are held together by panoramic shots of American clichés: Mount Rushmore, the Manhattan skyline, amber waves of grain, the Grand Canyon. A bombastic musical score works more variations on America the Beautiful than you thought possible (that's when it isn't dunning us with saccharine pop patriotic anthems).

We see new citizens being sworn in and hear a black minister reprise Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech. Branson, Mo., comic and Russian emigre Yakov Smirnoff tells affectionate jokes about America, where people leave their expensive cars in the driveway so the garage can be filled with worthless junk.

Proud American plays less like a feature film than a public service announcement (in some markets it's playing on IMAX screens). Technically it's competent, which is more than can be said for some of the acting. Alert viewers will spot a few old pros here — Ken Howard and James Sikking as tag-team teachers at a med school, for example — but mostly the film has been cast with unknowns, many of whom deserve to stay that way.

What can I say? One man's inspiration is another's headache. I need an aspirin.