The Oath

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Sometimes when I’m doing movie reviews on KOGO 600 AM, I won’t realize it’s a few days before Thanksgiving or the 4th of July, and they’ll ask me my favorite movie about those holidays. I get caught off guard.

An underrated Thanksgiving movie is Home for the Holidays, directed by Jodie Foster almost 25 years ago. That terrific cast (Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr., David Strathairn, Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, Dylan McDermott, Claire Danes) does their share of bickering, but they’re also a loving family. It was a real treat.

The Oath takes place on Thanksgiving, and it’s probably more realistic in how families fight. I remember two different Thanksgivings where my sister completely lost her mind (strangely enough, she was born on Thanksgiving). One time she insisted abortion was going to be illegal if the country elected George W. Bush into office. Another time it was when she was in college and going through a vegetarian phase. That never plays well at the Thanksgiving table that has a 15 pound dead bird on it. When it came to politics, my family fought but usually kept it reasonable (unless my step-dad started ranting about Reagan; then you just took your slice of pumpkin pie and ate it in the other room).

It’s probably a perfect time for a film like this, with the two sides of the political landscape being angier at each other than at any other time in history.

I was thrilled to find out character actor Ike Barinholtz (Neighbors, Blockers, Sisters, Central Intelligence) wrote, produced, starred, and directed this.

It’s the near future, and the President of the United States (who is obviously modeled after Trump), is insisting all Americans sign an oath, pledging their loyalty to the U.S. Now, you don’t have to sign the oath. You just won’t get certain tax breaks, you might lose your house, and goons might show up at your door with some questions and strong arm tactics.

The Citizens Protection Unit is formed, and Chris (Barinholtz) is hearing stories from his co-workers about relatives and friends they have that lost their homes after not signing. He’s disappointed when one co-worker, who had been holding out on signing, finally caved and signed the thing. Chris goes home griping to his wife (Tiffany Haddish, in a toned down performance that’s interesting). She’s a bit more concerned with the safety of her child, and the possible fights that always arise at Thanksgiving dinner when the right wing family shows up.

Chris keeps switching channels from the football game on TV to the news stations to see what is happening with all the protesting resistors and mobs that are being killed by the Citizens Protection Unit, on orders from the President.

Things started promising, with Barinholtz poking fun at both sides. His Republican brother and his latest arm candy, are slightly dim gun (and oath) lovers. Yet he’s also shown to be a bit of a buffoon, constantly checking the news and going over the top with his PC stuff. There’s also a lot of lazy writing. For example, a joke about the older parents being confused by a TV remote.

There are a few funny gags that work (best Seth Rogen “cameo” — his face shown on the news as someone that “disappeared” after refusing to sign the oath).

Unfortunately, this satire is an incoherent mess that goes too far in the extreme to make it work. It’s a shame because the main character would be the perfect person to root for. Instead, only John Cho and Tiffany Haddish play characters that are likable. It’s a shame, because the cast is solid (Billy Magnussen as the maniacal cop, Meredith Hagner as the annoying sister-in-law, Cho as the “reasonable” member of the Citizens Protection Unit).

It’s just that…making a protagonist that’s always angry, and has shown himself to also be a bit of a d-bag…makes this as exhausting as trying to deal with a Thanksgiving dinner with a sister in college that just became a vegan.

Don’t let this movie confuse you with the terrific foreign movie The Oath from a few years ago (that’s about a doctor that has kidnapped and is torturing a person). And, as I said in my review of The Hate U Give — see Blindspotting or Sorry to Bother You instead.

1 ½ stars out of 5.

 

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