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Taking Chances (Patriotville)
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by Erik Childress

"Where The License Plates Read 'Against Us'"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 CINEVEGAS FILM FESTIVAL: Small towns for years in cinema have made for the quintessential slice of Americana. They often reflect the forgotten values of a country drenched in consumerism and corruption. Normally they have an adverse effect on a big city bigwig trapped amongst its people; warming them up to their charms and simple living (like the winning Doc Hollywood or junk like Sweet Home Alabama and New In Town.) Occasionally it’s the other way around with the visitors stirring things up until a compromise can be reached in time for the end credits. Movies tend to stay the same though even through the divided times we’ve been living in this new century. A small town is no longer a John Mellencamp song but represented as something behind the times, easily manipulated by the power structure and sticking to their guns both figuratively and literally. Patriotville is a film that has its roots in plotting we’ve seen many times before and while many will walk out thinking they’ve seen a very funny comedy, if they think a little harder they’ll see a wonderfully cynical streak running right down main street.

In the small titular community, Chase Revere (Justin Long) runs the local historical museum. Like most businesses in town it’s down to just a single employee and even less visitors. His best friend, Digger (Keir O’Donnell), fills his unmotivated time making his way through the town’s female population and justifying grandiose lies he’s told about major landmarks making plans to find a home in Patriotville. One truth Digger does have is the town’s legislature pitch for an Indian casino to be built in town. Right over the site of a Revolutionary battlefield that has claimed their meager place in history and where Chase holds the occasional reenactment of the event.

Less concerned with his own bread-and-butter, but more with the town’s willingness to easily forget its roots, Chase vigorously opposes the casino. He finds an unlikely ally in town beauty, Lucy (Emmanuelle Chriqui), whom he first meets trying to find her own closure with an absentee dad. Together they begin a signature campaign to stop the impending deal. Town mayor Cleveland Fishback (Rob Corddry) has his hands full with trying to impress the visiting tribe, getting the town board on the same page and placating a business officer for Indian affairs. He doesn’t have time to humor Chase & Lucy’s efforts and they soon find the town turning against them.

Humor is one thing Patriotville (the film) has going for it in spades. Instead of just turning this into a collection of Red State cliches and Hickville stereotypes the film is populated with some truly exceptional comedic performers. Like a gathering of veteran character actors and the rising of a new generation, Patriotville almost succeeds solely on the strength of their abilities to deliver one non-sequitur after another, living off of reactions rather than clear punchlines. Corddry has occasionally way over played his hand as the comically obnoxious authority figure or guy’s-guy best friend, as in the Harold & Kumar sequel, What Happens In Vegas and The Heartbreak Kid remake. This is the funniest he’s been since his days on The Daily Show and the little seen festival indie, Blackballed: The Bobby Dukes Story. He’s given solid support from Nick Offerman (currently seen on TV’s Parks and Recreations) who has some hysterical moments as the town sheriff and Phil Reeves (memorably the principal in Alexander Payne’s Election) as Chase’s dad who would rather not see his son rock the boat.

Then you have the next generation with Keir O’Donnell stealing scenes as the lie-around (and about) friend and Emmanuelle Chriqui using her almost inhuman beauty to her advantage. Lucy is more complicated than just an easy charmer for Chase to be distracted by and Chriqui knows she’s to be played as someone unknowingly committed to the baggage she brings to the table and looks like she may be coming into her own as more than just another stunner in the room. Justin Long, on the other hand, has been on my radar since his days on TV’s Ed. He’s had a fair share of starring roles in projects as varied as Jeepers Creepers and Live Free or Die Hard, but he’s mostly made his way doing supporting work in films like Dodgeball and all but stealing Zack and Miri Make a Porno. It was in this year’s He’s Just Not That Into You where Long appeared more than ready to make the next leap into leading man status. While showing off his own riff on being the smartest ass in Accepted, there was an infinite confidence to his work in that romantic ensemble that made him a clear stand-out. Chase is more confident in his convictions than his interaction with the fairer sex and that insecurity only endears us further to him. Counting Patriotville’s premiere at CineVegas, this is the second film in a few weeks time where Long appears as an almost helpless bystander to the struggles of our current economic times. Luckily, no one is being dragged into hell this time about.

Or are they? Once you’re able to wade through much of the film’s laughter, there’s a new dawn brewing that this might not be one of those stories where cutesy music signals from the get-go that everything is going to turn out all hunky-dory. Annie Nocenti’s screenplay doesn’t fill in all of the blanks for us since we’d certainly like to learn a little more about some of the characters (particularly Missi Pyle’s wife of the Mayor) and a couple plot strands are a little too simplified in their resolutions. But if we’ve learned anything this century, it’s to read between the lines. The irony of an ignorant community hoping to save their well-being by supporting a business designed with the sole purpose of taking their money in the pursuit of an unwinnable dream is just about the perfect metaphor for a society being sold fake reality on TV every night. And being sold that dream by the original people that the white man screwed over only furthers the allegory. Chase’s crusade should equally be called into question. Are the present lives of his town a noble sacrifice just so they hang onto the past? Does this not run counter to the idea of moving forward and is his pursuit not the very thing that many of us would meet with the response “get a life” over some sacred spot on our own town soil?

These are not questions the film takes on directly but are likely the kind that will seep into your thoughts after you leave Patriotville. Potentially heady ideas for a film that isn’t ashamed to give us a good balls joke when it sees the opportunity. Patriotville had already succeeded as a very funny comedy and even an intriguingly sweet romance well before its loftier ambitions took center stage. I even applauded a snap decision by Corddry’s villain that ran counter to Chase’s success just because it was refreshing to see that Nocenti and director Talmage Cooley weren’t intent to find an easy win for its heroes. I may have been too young to understand any reflections of the times that came with Ron Howard’s Gung Ho (1986) and Richard Donner’s The Goonies (1985) (O’Donnell’s Digger does have some Chunk-like tendencies towards embellishment) but those are films that continue to be relevant today as more than just childhood memories. Hopefully someday we’ll look at Patriotville as just a flash of a very specific time in our nation’s history and we’ll be able to laugh at more than just the elements that make it a really solid comedy.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18574&reviewer=198
originally posted: 06/11/09 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2009 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/14/11 Joshua Jones terrible movie with a terrible ending!!!!! 1 stars
10/04/10 Martin Is there a soundtrack? Very deep goes the metaphore of this movie 5 stars
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  DVD: 24-Nov-2009


  DVD: 24-Nov-2009

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