Americathon (1979)

Article #1037 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-16-2004
Posting Date: 6-14-2004
Directed by Neal Israel
Featuring John Ritter, Harvey Korman, Fred Willard

In the future (1998, to be precise), America has run out of oil and is in debt to a Native American businessman who is preparing to foreclose. The country decides to hold a telethon to raise the money to pay the debt.

The script for this movie was based on a play written by Peter Bergman and Philip Proctor, two members of the innovative comedy troupe known as The Firesign Theatre. Fans of the troupe will notice several touches that do recall some of their satirical counterculture wit, and there are sporadic moments that actually elicit laughs (including seeing a short sequence of game show announcer Peter Marshall in his new profession as a newscaster), but a deadly malaise hangs over the proceedings. For every moment that works there are several others where the movie falls flat, and other moments that are downright embarassing. It’s mainly interesting for oddball cameos: Jay Leno plays a boxer having a bout with his mother, Meat Loaf plays a man battling the last running car in existence, Elvis Costello pops up to sing “Crawling to the U.S.A.”, and George Carlin narrates. There’s also some subpar dinosaur animation in the opening minute of the movie. It’s definitely a misfire, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I found out that the movie has a small cult following for all that.


1 Comment

  1. Oddly it was only about a month after you posted this that it turned up at Chicago’s B-Fest, which is a decently big event, so your comments about a cult following are probably not far off. I thought it was a bit funnier than you did, but I suspect that, as in many cases, venue matters and I also suspect it plays better with an audience. While I’d never heard of it before it turned up there, I had several friends (and one husband) come out of the woodwork who’d seen it upon original release and remembered it fondly.

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