Postal

(2007)

by D. B. Bates, Editor-in-Chief

If you’ve ever stumbled across a notorious critical and commercial bomb on cable and thought, Hey, this isn’t so bad, this is the column for you. Each month, we’ll examine a new failed film that’s worth a second look.

When Matt challenged himself to endure the Uwe Boll film Rampage, his revelation that Boll had made yet another awful film didn’t surprise me in the least. However, I felt compelled to defend his one and only decent film — 2007’s Postal, a cheerfully offensive, simple-minded but incredibly funny satire of the culture of stupidity and apathy that has slowly overtaken the American populous. Like a lot of gag-a-second comedies, not every joke works, but there’s always one that hits right after a miss. It also demonstrates that Boll’s problems as a filmmaker stem more from his chosen genre (schlocky, horror-action video game adaptations) than a true lack of talent.

True, Postal itself claims to be adapted from a pair of semi-popular first-person shooter games about a postal worker on a rampage. However, Boll throws away pretty much everything but the title and the third-act rampage, likely to the film’s benefit. He mostly uses the concept of an ordinary man driven to a killing spree as a springboard to mercilessly satirize pretty much everything Americans hold sacred. It’s the sort of film that opens with a bizarre, Abbott & Costello-esque bit of comedy involving two airplane hijackers discussing the approximate number of virgins available to them in paradise, whether or not they’ll have to share, how it’s possible that the virgin to martyr ratio could be so high, and what will happen once they’ve deflowered all the virgins. Just when they realize the steaming load of crap they’ve been handed from their leaders and decide to turn around, the passengers burst into the cockpit, the terrorists lose control of the plane, and it slams into Tower One.

If you don’t find any of that funny, you will absolutely hate this movie.

After the opening sequence, the film settles into its actual story. The main character, known only as “Dude” (played by Zack Ward, a gifted comic actor whose career has unfortunately been hampered by his legendary role as Scut Farkus in A Christmas Story), has grown tired of his rotten life. He starts the day optimistic, greeting the day happily as he heads off to a job interview. So desperate for work and happy for the opportunity, he endures unending humiliation from his potential boss, who eventually ridicules him for having no backbone and tosses him out. Dude returns home to his trailer park, expecting sympathy from his morbidly obese wife. Instead, he finds her having loud, unabashed sex with a fellow unemployed trailer park resident.

Distraught, Dude visits his Uncle Dave (a game Dave Foley), a lowlife con artist who has stumbled into financial and sexual success after starting his own doomsday cult. Dude hatches a scheme with his uncle to steal a shipment of Krotchy dolls, the latest Jingle All the Way-esque toy fad. In one of the many lowbrow jokes Boll revels in, Krotchy happens to be shaped like an enormous scrotum. Uncle Dave’s master plan is to sell the Krotchy dolls on eBay at hugely inflated prices.

Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden (Larry Thomas) has designs on the Krotchy dolls, as well. In Boll’s cracked comic universe, bin Laden runs a thriving chain of convenience stores, speaks impeccable, accentless English, and enjoys all the finer things in life. He has a barren cave soundstage in the stockroom of his flagship store, where he records menacing videos to keep the American citizenry terrified and buying the disgusting, fatty foods his store stocks. Bin Laden wants the Krotchy dolls so he can inject them each with avian flu before reselling them at inflated prices, thus ensuring a plague will wipe out western civilization.

Boll (with cowriter Bryan C. Knight) use this needlessly convoluted plot to string together as many horrendous caricatures of American culture as possible: Michael Paré as an entitled bum; J.K. Simmons as a brazenly corrupt politician; Ralf Moeller and Chris Spencer as racist, ultra-violent cops; Rick Hoffman as the obnoxious boss of Gluttco, a mega-corporation that’s sort of a low-budget riff on Metropolis. The film lacks the sophisticated wit and intelligence of something like In the Loop (for one thing, bin Laden and his fellow terrorists frequently refer to themselves as Taliban members), but Boll’s nonpartisan, take-no-prisoners approach to offensiveness make the absurdity of our numerous sacred cows vividly apparent.

Boll doesn’t even let himself off the hook. He has a cameo as himself, the proprietor of a Nazi-themed amusement park who murders the actual creator of the Postal games in front of a cheering audience, before admitting he finances his films with Nazi gold. This sequence also involves a shootout between Uncle Dave’s heist crew, bin Laden’s terrorists, and U.S. government officials, resulting in the graphically portrayed deaths of dozens of children. Boll leaves no stone unturned in the pursuit of absolute tastelessness, from Verne Troyer locked in a suitcase filled with sex toys to Uncle Dave taking a noisy (and nude) dump in front of his psychotic disciple, Richard (Chris Coppola).

What rises from this tastelessness, though, is one hell of an absurd, bleakly funny comedy guided by the firm belief that humanity’s stupidity and selfishness has doomed the planet. After gaining some prominence with the parody film German Fried Movie, Boll somehow found himself mired in lame-brained, gravely serious, incredibly low-budget adaptations of moderately popular video games. The combination of the budget restrictions and Boll’s poor handling of anything resembling drama or suspense ruined those movies and led to rumors he runs a Producers-like scam where he makes more money on a flop than a hit by exploiting German tax law. In reality, I think he was just out of his element. (Though, frankly, the big-budget adaptations of video games like Resident Evil and Doom — even going back as far as 1993’s Super Mario Brothers — are equally bad, so I’m not sure how Boll became a critical punching bag.)

Luckily, in a comedy like this, Boll doesn’t need drama or suspense. The central conflict here is Boll’s hatred of all mankind, and he does a better job of portraying this contempt than other misanthropic filmmakers (though Neil LaBute’s Wicker Man is funnier than Postal, it’s not supposed to be). Even the amateurish production values give the film a ramshackle charm that matches the story, and Boll assembled a cast of fearless, hilarious actors. All he has to do is stand back and let them be funny, so whatever limitations he has as a director are easily swept under the rug.

Because of its touchy subject matter, I can easily understand why this movie had trouble securing distribution in the U.S. (It had a very brief, limited theatrical run before getting swept off to DVD.) It’s a shame that Boll should get punished for making such a ballsy, ludicrous film, but the fact remains that it’s a solid, funny film that ought to be seen by even the most hostile Boll haters. It may not change their minds, but at least it’ll be harder for them to argue that he’s utterly devoid of talent.

D. B. Bates is a freelance script reader and writer.

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