Released into theaters to coincide with "Patriot Day" – otherwise known as 9/11 -- this weird tribute to the American spirit throws together a handful of real-life, Reader's Digest-style stories to celebrate qualities we like to think of as quintessentially American: optimism, tolerance, hard work and an unflagging dedication to one's dream in the face of overwhelming odds.
In the first main story, Dawn Trang (Jane Le), a refugee who, in the 1970s, left Vietnam with her parents on an overcrowded boat, is teased at her new high school by a group of mean girls who make fun of the way she pronounces “Franklin Delano Roosevelt.” Luckily for Dawn, she’s befriended by a group of nice girls who help her with her studies. Determined to "become an American," Dawn graduates with a high grade-point average, attends college, gets her MBA and eventually founds a software company with her husband (Chris Emerson). Through hard work and perseverance, Dawn becomes a successful American. In another story, a Jewish family (Marc McClure, A. Lee Massaro) is terrorized during the holiday season by a group of thugs who smash their front window and destroy their menorah. Christian neighbors rally around them and, after acknowledging that Judaism is indeed a perfectly valid religion that even predates their own, offer a public show of support. In the third tale, an 18-year-old Brazilian immigrant named Carlos (Michael Barreta) is offered a job as a dishwasher in an Italian restaurant run by kindly Mr. Moretti (Jonathan Banks), even though Carlos's English is very poor. Within months, Carlos is fluent, and quickly goes from dishwasher to restaurant manager. But grateful though Carlos may be to Mr. Moretti, he knows his destiny lies elsewhere: the Navy Seals. After completing the grueling training program, Carlos is seriously wounded during the U.S. invasion of Panama, but he faces his new series of challenges like a true American. In addition, the film also features several shorter “American” stories, including those of a man who started his own seafood restaurant and a 9/11 widow who visits Ground Zero with her daughter, as well as footage of cemeteries and a military parade. For those having trouble grasping the messages, songs like "(I'm a) Proud American," "Free to Believe" and "Freedom Isn't Free" are there to help.
Produced with the same tone and style as those "Hello, and Welcome to Jury Duty" videos, this bizarre display opens with a deafening blast of "America the Beautiful," impressive aerial footage of mountains, prairies and gleaming cities (in some theaters the film will be shown in IMAX format), and a dedication to "the ideals of a free society": opportunity, responsibility and the pursuit of happiness. Did we mention the multi-national corporate logos? Wall-Mart, American Airlines, MasterCard and Coca-Cola all had a hand in financing the film, but director Fred Ashman -- a corporate media producer whose past clients happen to include American Airlines and MasterCard -- assures us in a strange disclaimer that he worked free of any "outside influences." So it's probably just a coincidence that the founding of Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart are both dramatized here as sources of American pride. And surely it was an artistic choice to feature a giant Coke bottle and an enormous sphere emblazoned with the American Airlines logo in that random shot of a golf course. The only thing that could make the film any kookier comes at the very end: a special thank you to Ross Perot, "a true American patriot" who lent his "inspiration and support when no one else would listen." Thanks, Ross.
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