- The Washington Times - Friday, October 10, 2008

Hollywood can be an awful place for conservatives, personally as well as professionally. Andrew Breitbart has thoroughly documented its closed-mindedness and hostility to conservatives in general and Republicans in particular in these pages.

This means a lot was at stake for those involved with “An American Carol.” A fiercely conservative film taking broad swipes at liberal icons such as Michael Moore and the American Civil Liberties Union, David Zucker’s zany comedy was supposed to strike a blow for all right-thinking members of the Hollywood community. Stars Jon Voight and Kelsey Grammer, as well as Mr. Zucker, all seemed very eager to put themselves on the line for this movie, to stake their reputations, relationships and careers on its success.

Maybe they should have waited a little longer.

“An American Carol” feels more like decades of frustration thrown up against the screen than great (or even mediocre) cinema. It’s an awkward mix of genres, veering drunkenly between schlocky slapstick and heartfelt earnestness. You don’t see too many comedies invoke the 3,000 killed on Sept. 11 to make a point, however important that point may be.

You don’t see it because it’s not funny. It’s jarring. It takes you out of the moment. It reminds you that you’re seeing a “message movie,” not a movie.

The problem seems to be that Mr. Zucker and company have fallen into the same trap their enemies on the left have embraced: message over movie. It’s just another symptom of the balkanization of our times.

You see it on the World Wide Web (Red State vs. Daily Kos); you see it on cable (MSNBC vs. Fox News Channel); you see it in print (the New Republic vs. the National Review). And, unfortunately, you’ve started to see it in the movies.

We’ve gotten to the point where going to the cineplex has become almost as politicized as pulling a lever in the voting booth.

Rush Limbaugh took to the airwaves to rally the dittoheads, saying that “American Carol” “is up against the usual obstacles conservative movies have. … It’s not getting a whole lot of support from the usual Hollywood sources that big movies do, simply because it’s conservative.”

Also, don’t you dare go to a movie like “Religulous” if you want to stay in the movement’s good graces. Never mind that Bill Maher’s broadside against religion is cowardly, hectoring and unfunny: Putting money in Mr. Maher’s coffers is verboten because, well, this is the Culture War, people, and don’t you want your side to win the battle of the box office?

“American Carol” didn’t pull in the big audiences conservative talk-show hosts were hoping it would attract - in fact, it got stomped (when looking at the per-screen average) by “Religulous.” There’s no blaming liberal Hollywood this time: The goods simply weren’t there.

Its failure at the box office is going to do serious damage to the conservative movement in Hollywood - studio execs will be justified in arguing, “Conservative doesn’t sell.”

Worse, it signifies seriously misaligned priorities. What good does it do conservatives to have a right-leaning ghetto of their own churning out annoyingly bad films to accompany the liberal ghetto that already exists?

Instead of making features like this one - tantrums produced as a reaction to the sillier indulgences of the American left - conservatives should focus on what’s been working in recent years: sticking conservative messages into entertaining, popular films.

Consider a movie such as “The Pursuit of Happyness,” the Will Smith vehicle that emphasizes American can-do and celebrates the rags-to-riches mentality that makes our country so great. That movie made nearly as much as every film with an anti-Wall Street, anti-capitalism sensibility produced in the past decade combined.

Instead of stewing about the antiwar mentality in Los Angeles, take heart in the fact that the rousing, martial, pro-democracy, West-vs.-East action flick “300” made more in one weekend than every antiwar film produced since Sept. 11 put together. Who cares if Hollywood doesn’t support the war on terror? No one is watching those movies anyway.

Sneak simpatico people - preferably those with talent - into positions of prominence within the industry instead of rubbing your ideological opponents’ faces in the fact that you disagree with them. Take the $20 million used to finance pictures like Mr. Zucker’s and pour it into training a generation of filmmakers with an ideology similar to your own.

It’s not enough to sneer, “Nyah nyah, we can make a movie you hate just as much as the tripe you produce that we hate.” It doesn’t affect the culture, but it does hurt your ideas - and your ability to get a job - in a town where so many deals are made through personal relationships.

Even worse, it makes for bad, boring movies. That’s the most inexcusable sin of all.

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