Listen up, Cheese Dicks, yer gonna love the Nam'!
Viva the Nam may be the greatest satire of the Vietnam War you've never heard before. That is, unless you live in Austin. I was fortunate enough to see this on the large screen at the Alamo Drafthouse last January and even more fortunate to be able to host its Philadelphia premiere next week. And since the film is an almost note perfect parody of Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket, I'd like to set up my review as a parody of an AICN article by prefacing my endorsement of this wonderful film with a long winded, narcissistic, and completely irrelevant personal story. This is really just a bad justification for writing this review drunk.
Anyhow, the Summer/Fall of 1999 was quite possibly the greatest film season of my lifetime. I was a junior in high school and a film student enrolled at New York Film Academy's summer camp in New Jersey. During this time, I saw The Matrix, Run Lola Run, Eyes Wide Shut, Blair Witch Project, Magnolia, Ghost Dog, Three Kings, Fight Club, and Being John Malkovich in the theaters all within a few short weeks of each other.
But my strongest and most vivid memory was seeing South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. I was 16 and admittingly inebriated when I saw this in the theater. In fact, not only was it my first time drinking in a movie theater (among other things), but it was my first time getting drunk ever. Not much changed since then. But I do remember one thing very clearly, I never laughed so hard in my entire fucking life. I remember laughing to the point of choking which lead to coughing which only lead to getting ever higher and thus laughing harder. I remember other audience members yelling at me to shut the fuck the up.
I think I laughed so hard that something inside of me broke. I still love a good comedy but I haven't had another experience that comes close since then. Matt Stone & Trey Parker's follow up, Team America fell flat. I find the sexist and homophobic frat boy humor of Apatow and Todd Phillips grating and annoying. Only Jackass 1 & 2 came close to producing the same guffaws. I may be older and arguably wiser, but I still have the mind of a perverted 16 year old when it comes to comedy. I like my humor dirty and undiluted without all of the fake, bull shit sentimentality that plagues most American comedies today. I like it dangerous, but I also like it intelligent. A contradiction? Maybe, but as lewd as South Park is, the writing and biting satire can't be dismissed so easily.
I've been searching for a feature film comedy as harsh, crude, and clever as South Park for years...
Ironically, it was only shortly after the release of South Park, Austinites Paul Hanley and Keiren Healy begun work on a stop motion animated feature that I believe is finally worthy of comparison.
Viva the Nam is hands down, one of the funniest films I've seen in the last 10 years. This is an unapologetically raunchy, vulgar, politically incorrect, and yet surprisingly intelligent parody of Vietnam war films. And did I mention it was made using unlicensed, grey market G.I. Dolls from Japan? Andy Warhol, Bob Hope, Vincent Price, Hunter S. Thompson, Dennis Hopper, Charles Manson, and hundreds more make cameos. Who knew there were dolls for half of these people?
Viva the Nam was a personal 8 -10 year labor of love for film makers, Hanley and Healey. This was never created with the intention of making any profit or even finding national distribution. This was initially made only as a calling card exercise. The animation is jerky and amateurish and the film itself is rife with uber dorky film references. A great drinking game could be made of all the obscure film geek references and cameos. And the soundtrack is scored with classic rock tunes which will be nearly impossible to get licensed for any less than a six digit figure if a distributor ever decides to pick this up. In all likely hood, this is destined to remain an underground cult item ala Todd Haynes' Superstar. And if that may be the case, this is simply put, the greatest fan film I've ever seen.
But then again, the scope of this is too daunting to allow it fade away into complete obscurity. While the animation is quite jerky and rough, the sets, props, and meticulous attention to historical detail is beyond impressive for a no budget DIY feature.
While comparisons to Robot Chicken are inevitable, Hanley and Healey have done more than simply make a wacky comedy using celebrity branded dolls. This thing feels epic, it plays out like a fully fleshed out satire. Believe or not, there is an engaging storyline with interesting characters. 15 minutes in and you'll easily forget that you're watching animated toys whose lips aren't moving. And the voice work mostly provided by Hanley and Healey is really fucking funny.
The plot follows Joe Holmes, an infantry recruit who's been drafted to the Nam. Holmes' family has a formidable curse placed on them. All of the males have died in previous wars around the world. Yet, Joe has somehow escaped this fate. The film opens in the modern day (circa 2007) where Joe calls his son stationed in Baghdad. Joe relays his own story of his time in the Nam' to his son fighting today. What follows is a dead on parody of Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket. There are plenty of familiar characters and scenes. The infamous boot camp segment form FMJ is here and the soldier riot at a USO show from Apoc Now Redux. This time around, the drunk and rowdy G.I.s attack Bob Hope and John Wayne. But the film works best when it takes its own course into a wholly original storyline.
When Holmes is abandoned by his unit, he accidentally stumbles across the Vietnam border into Laos where he is taken captive by a small militia who initially want to help him.
Meanwhile, a Lieutenant modeled after Colonel Kilgore from Apocalypse Now is working on a great documentary showcasing America's liberation of the Nam'. Obviously, things are not going well, so the lieutenant decides to hire a celebrity action star and stage a real attack on an unsuspecting Laotian village. What ensues is one of the most insane, violent, offensive, and downright hysterical scenes ever committed to celluloid.
There are numerous stand out scenes too good to give away. I guarantee many of you will be quoting, "Get some," a lot after watching this and you'll crack a smile every time you here "wholly bully" or ""Surfing Bird."
Given the nature of this type of comedy, some jokes inevitably fall flat, and there are times when the story drags. But it's consistently funny enough that it never becomes boring. Despite its lengthy running time, I never checked my watch.
There's no distribution deal in place and I doubt there will be any time soon. But if you're a fellow programmer, writer, or all around film lover, I recommend contacting the filmmakers to bring this film to your town.
This is a must see animated comedy that I know the majority of twitch readers are bound to adore as much as I.
The Hell Fire Film Club will be hosting the Philadelphia premiere of Viva the Nam at Philly's best dive, Bob & Barbara's Lounge (1509 South St) on Tuesday, November 16th at 10pm.