The basic premise of this hyperkinetic comedy is a winner, but the execution is so deprived of inspiration that Americathon ends up feeling like a Saturday Night Live sketch overstaying its welcome. Set in 1998, which was 20 years into the future when the movie was made, Americathon imagines what happens when the U.S. finally runs out of money and risks defaulting on debts. (Sound familiar, circa 2011?) The government hires a PR man (Peter Riegert), who suggests a month-long telethon in which Americans will be invited to help the government pay off a $400 billion loan. That’s a great start, but the filmmakers behind Americathon bludgeon this rich concept with one lame joke after another, filling the movie with so many misdirected satirical potshots that the movie becomes unrelentingly stupid.
The country’s main creditor is a rich Native American (Chief Dan George), who makes his money selling running shoes and track suits; the President (John Ritter) is a narcissistic horndog preaching ’70s-style philosophy while operating out of the “Western White House,” a sublet condo in Southern California; and the country’s main enemy is a new nation called the United Hebrab Republic, formed when Arabs and Israelis solved their differences to become a greedy world power. But wait, there’s more! The telethon host is a drugged-out sitcom star named Monty Rushmore (Harvey Korman); the President gets infatuated with a screeching Vietnamese singer (Zane Busby), who performs something called “puke rock”; and the President’s insidious chief of staff (Fred Willard) wants to sabotage the telethon (by overstuffing the talent list with ventriloquists) in order to sell the country to the Hebrabs. There’s also room for rocker Meat Loaf as a stuntman, baseball manager Tommy Lasorda as a sports commentator, Jay Leno as a shlub who enters a boxing match with his aging mother, and random moments like a performance by Elvis Costello.
Directed by Neil Israel, who later co-created the Police Academy franchise, this picture opts for a shallow mile-a-minute style that only works when the jokes are so funny that viewers can’t catch their breath in between laughs—and the jokes in Americathon simply aren’t funny. One can’t help but feel for the actors, since they’re clearly trying to elevate this dreck into something worthwhile, but even the indefatigable Korman is left gasping for air by the dopey script. In fact, virtually the only unassailable element of the movie is George Carlin’s sardonic narration (he voices a track ostensibly spoken by Reigert’s character); though the jokes in the narration aren’t any better than those onscreen, Carlin’s delivery is so perfect that his work hints at the satirical free-for-all Americathon could have been. (Available at WarnerArchive.com)