A corporate-sponsored, feature-length infomercial on behalf of the core entrepreneurial values of the U.S. of A., “Proud American” combines unabashed hokiness with relentless oversimplification. Conceived, written and acted with the flatness of a school pageant, the pic highlights four inspirational stories embedded in a quilt of shorter snippets that pay sweeping homage to world religions, dead American soldiers, national monuments and corporations big and small. Distributed directly through theater chains like Regal and AMC, “Proud” bowed Sept. 12 in 35mm and Imax formats with plans for “evergreen” release on future non-9/11 flag-waving occasions.
Pic’s four demographically hand-picked minidramas all celebrate the overcoming of insurmountable odds (failure not being an American option). The first, ’70s-set vignette concerns a beautiful Vietnamese refugee whose poor pronunciation and drab garb in high school earn her the enmity of a quartet of sneering Mean Girls and the support of a trio of smiling Nice Girls. Success being the best revenge, she not only graduates from college but turns her husband’s innovative computer program into a flourishing startup.
In the second installment, when skinheads smash a Jewish family’s menorah on Christmas, the neighbors rally ’round, incorporating a menorah into their sparkly yuletide decorations in the spirit of Judeo-Christian continuity.
A black kid from Chicago’s South Side is saved from the gang-to-jail fate of his best buddy when a trip to the doctor reveals his true vocation as a healer. Interminable setbacks and triumphs later, he inspires another ghetto child as he himself was inspired.
Finally, a Brazilian skateboarder falls in love with America and works his way up from dishwasher to restaurant manager. He patriotically leaves commerce for a stint as a Navy Seal, but gets shot in Panama and loses the use of his legs; the happy ending finds him conquering depression and muscular atrophy to become a champion athlete.
Based on actual events and meant to honor multiculturalism, these stories tend to reinforce the very stereotypes (smart Asians, macho Hispanics, struggling blacks with poor study habits, and Jews completely dependent on the kindness of Christians) they superficially attempt to dispel.
Helmer Fred Ashman comes to this project from a career in industrial film that impacts every frame. Pic opens with an acknowledgement of the freedom granted him by his corporate sponsors. But ridiculous historical reconstructions that are essentially paeans to capitalism, commemorating the birth of Coca-Cola and the expansion of Wal-Mart (“That’s what people want. It will make their lives better”), raise questions as to Ashman’s oft-invoked notions of liberty and independence.
Glossy tech credits prove as professionally super-slick as the writing and direction prove jaw-droppingly amateurish, while a score of preachy songs by Stan Beard and comedy by Yakov Smirnoff hammer the pic’s points even more unremittingly than its narratives.