Earlier in the year, I caught Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington’s travelling roadshow at Chicago’s Thalia Hall. At the time, my knowledge of Heidecker and Turkington was largely condensed to a fleeting familiarity of their filmography, aware that they’ve both been featured in Rick Alverson films. And I had seen Turkington, as his alter ego Neil Hamburger, perform an absolutely lacerating set earlier in the year at the dive-bar-disguised-as-a-venue, The Hideout. But beyond that, I was mostly unfamiliar with the depths of their oeuvre, which include ten seasons of the On Cinema at the Cinema show, six two-plus hour Oscar specials, a six-season web series/action parody called Decker, and Heidecker’s EDM collaborations. Little could prepare me for what I saw during On Cinema Live and even with that minimal exposure, little could prepare me for Mister America.
The narrative catalogues Heidecker’s attempts to run for San Bernardino District Attorney. He does so entirely out of spite, attempting to oust Vincent Rossetti (Don Pecchia) after Heidecker’s own murder trial. The background of that case is more or less a commentary on white privilege, which finds the clearly guilty Heidecker get away with murder. And as is his wont, Heidecker challenges Rossetti despite not being remotely qualified for the position of D.A. What follows is a familiar sight in contemporary American politics, of the quote unquote opulent white man utilizing jingoistic rhetoric to win would-be voters. He just so happens to be incredibly bad at being a politician, with his own friend Turkington attempting to hijack the documentary with his own brand of cringe humor.
I remember remarking to my friend while I was at On Cinema Live that if you’re not in on the joke, this would all seem dangerously close to resembling a Trump rally. I think that same danger is a little harder to pull off cinematically, and frankly, Mister America offers little cinematic value to consider. It’s a by-the-numbers mockumetary that deploys the genre’s bag of tricks with ease. But it’s certainly not transgressive enough to warrant considerable thought. As a self-contained piece of satire, it’s a modest accomplishment. But if you broaden the depths in which Mister America saw its origin, as a piece of performance art of the Obama age that eventually mutated with the times, the effort is certainly a bit more impressive. I guess this is what Marvel fans must feel like? It’s a satisfying bit of satire, to be sure. But I’m hoping Heidecker and Turkington can parlay this into something even more experimental and avant garde; there’s still a lot of unseen potential here.