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Film Review: ‘Mister America’

The "On Cinema" universe gets its first cinematic outing in this lazy mock documentary in which Tim Heidecker pretends to run for district attorney of San Bernadino.

Mister America
Magnolia Pictures

If you are of voting age in the United States today, you know that stranger things have happened than someone like Tim Heidecker getting elected to public office. But in a world where Americans are getting punked on an almost daily basis by their TV-famous cretin in chief, do we really need a smug fake-news “documentary” making a mockery of the political system?

Maybe that’s too literal an assessment of “Mister America,” the latest oddball installment in the long-running performance-art curiosity that is “On Cinema at the Cinema,” in which a character named Tim Heidecker (played by absurdist comedian/outsider artist Tim Heidecker) pretends to run for district attorney of San Bernardino, Calif. Will he win? That is so not the point in this consistently obnoxious, only fans offering (be warned: if you haven’t been following along with Heidecker’s “On Cinema” shenanigans, this is not the place to start) whose very existence seems to be the punchline to a joke that goes, “Just how far are they going to take this?”

The show itself, which purports to be a sloppy cable access movie-review series, has morphed from a kooky podcast between Heidecker and co-host Gregg Turkington to a recurring TV segment on Adult Swim (an incubator for alternative comedy experiments, of which this is not even remotely the weirdest). Over the show’s 11 seasons, Heidecker has done everything but dispense meaningful critical insight into movies — which is fine, putting him in such company as press-junket parody “Jiminy Glick in Lalawood” and hilariously inept celebrity interview series “Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis,” only much, much less amusing.

Between episodes, Heidecker’s blowhard character had a son he named Tom Cruise (now “deceased”), started a heavy metal band, got hooked on a “nutritional” vaping system, burned down the Victorville Film Archive, launched a disastrous music festival, sold said vaping apparatus to 20 concertgoers (now “deceased”) and defended himself in a San Bernardino show trial — bizarro developments that found their way into “On Cinema” episodes. The courtroom stunt inspired its own TV special, which ended with Heidecker threatening to run for district attorney, which brings us more or less up to speed.

Now, loosely following the faux-doc approach hatched by the revolutionary “Borat” (where it was all but impossible to tell who was in on the joke), an imaginary filmmaker named Josh Lorton (an alias for “On Cinema” collaborator Eric Notarnicola) shadows Heidecker on his half-assed campaign, which appears primarily to be a chance to intimidate and disparage the incumbent DA, Vincent Rosetti (also fictional). “This time it’s personal,” as countless crappy movies have quipped before. But first, Heidecker has to get himself on the ballot. His platform: a 100% reduction of crime. His plan: There is no plan.

If only “Mister America” managed to convince us, even for a single scene, that Heidecker had really mounted a political campaign, that might be funny (and more in keeping with Notarnicola’s work directing episodes of “Nathan for You”). But instead of upping the ante for “On Cinema’s” first foray into cinemas, the movie amounts to a few weak gags stretched out to feature length. In one, Heidecker prints out anti-corruption signs that say “We have a rat problem” and hangs one in the window of a local doughnut shop. In another, his disgruntled “On Cinema” co-host Turkington tries to make the documentary about himself, trash-talking Heidecker to the crew (the closest thing to context that the film offers newbies) and comparing the candidate to that of the 1976 Disney classic “The Shaggy D.A.”

Nothing here feels like it took much effort, which is disappointing if only because “On Cinema” is such a consistently weird show. Why not make Heidecker a real-world nuisance for once, actually entering the race? He could appeal to local celebrities for endorsements, or pretend to be upset when potential voters can’t place him as the Z-list host of a cable access show, in a state where name recognition helped elect the likes of Schwarzenegger, Eastwood and Sonny Bono. But what am I doing wasting brain cells on what-could-have-been ideas for a movie that doesn’t appear to have paid audiences the same respect?

“Mister America” may be a supreme waste of time — which, if taken not as an insult but an unconventional selling point, would serve as an ideal slogan for Adult Swim overall — but it’s not without virtues. It is shorter than “The Irishman,” for example, and you don’t have to be a Netflix subscriber to see it. The movie does not have subtitles, so you can watch it without actually having to watch it — say, by turning up the volume and walking into another room. And the end credits are definitely something to look forward to: They’re printed in a large, easy-to-read font and correctly spell the names of the actors involved, including those hired to play Rosetti (Don Pecchia) and Heidecker (Heidecker), but not of exec producer “Dave Kneeebone” (unless his surname really does contain four E’s).

Judged according to the high standards established by “On Cinema” over the years, “Mister America” earns five bags of popcorn — the same rating given to every film Tim and Gregg review — and believe you me, it deserves every corny kernel of that meaningless score.

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Film Review: ‘Mister America’

Reviewed online, Oct. 2, 2019. (In Beyond Fest.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 88 MIN.

  • Production: A Magnolia Pictures release and presentation of an Abso Lutely Prods. production, in association with Williams Street. Producers: Tim Heidecker, Gregg Turkington, Eric Notarnicola, Andrew Porter. Executive producers: Dave Kneebone, Eric Wareheim, Tim Heidecker.
  • Crew: Director: Eric Notarnicola. Screenplay: Tim Heidecker, Gregg Turkington, Eric Notarnicola. Camera (color, HD): Gabriel Patay. Editor: Sascha Stanton-Craven.
  • With: Tim Heidecker, Gregg Turkington, Curtis Webster, Don Pecchia, Terri Parks.
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