'Ron and Laura Take Back America': Film Review
Mel England and Janice Markham play the title roles in their mockumentary about a right-wing couple fighting back against Obama's America.
The time is certainly right for the release of Mel England and Janice Markham's mockumentary spoofing right-wing ideology, with its humorous concept having only gained more resonance since the film was conceived shortly after Barack Obama's 2008 election. But what might have worked reasonably well onstage, albeit in short doses, falls uncomfortably flat on the screen. Aiming for but failing to achieve a Christopher Guest level of spoofery, Ron and Laura Take Back America lives up to George S. Kaufman's quip that satire is what closes on Saturday night.
The director-screenwriters also play the title roles of a married couple living in Bakersfield, Calif. (where else?) who become the stars of a reality show documenting their impassioned opposition to such liberal causes as Obamacare, immigration reform, gay marriage, etc. Of course, their moral stances quickly run afoul of uncomfortable realities: their son reveals that he's gay and engaged to his black male roommate; Ron's elderly mother is being cared for by an illegal Hispanic immigrant; the nursing home in which they hope to place her is run by a, gasp, Muslim woman; and, well, you get the drill.
Despite its rich potential, the humor here is surprisingly sophomoric, with one running gag involving Laura's constantly confusing the names of the ultra-right-wing CEO of "Whole Fruits," John Zackie (Christopher Grove) with the liberal Hollywood fashion designer "Bob Zackie" (Jim J. Bullock). (Extra credit if you know that the characters are based on Whole Foods' John Mackey and legendary costumer Bob Mackie, although the context doesn't really add very much.) The lead performers' overly broad characterizations frequently lapse into caricature, and the attempts at evenhandedness by sending up liberal cliches feel half-hearted.
Featuring the gag along the lines of Ron screaming in terror after collapsing and getting mouth-to-mouth resuscitation from a black woman — All in the Family was delivering more nuanced humor about racial bigotry decades ago — the film strains for pointed irony in its depiction of the conservative couple desperately needing the sort of comprehensive health care coverage they've been railing against. But the humor almost consistently falls flat and, despite its topical relevance, is hopelessly dated, such as with its cameo by actress Sally Kirkland sending up her diva image … really?
Production companies: Vox Box Entertainment, Magical Iguana Productions, Vaccaro Motion Pictures, Sleeping Lady Films
Cast: Mel England, Janice Markham, Irene Bedard, Jim J. Bullock, Sally Kirkland
Director-screenwriters: Mel England, Janice Markham
Producers: Gideon Markham, Anthony Wandell, Jill Rothman, Lucas Kamp, Kassi Crews, Paul Burchett
Director of photography: Gideon Markham
Editor: Cindy Parisotto
Not rated, 90 minutes