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Sunday, March 9, 2014

DVD Review: Achmed Saves America

Jeff Dunham is a stand-up comedian and ventriloquist who has done several specials on Comedy Central. In 2012 I reviewed Jeff Dunham’s Minding The Monsters special, which features segments with different characters he’d created. By far my favorite character and puppet was Achmed, the terrorist. And now that character gets his own animated movie, Achmed Saves America.

The movie opens with a live action introduction with Jeff Dunham talking about cartoon characters with his Achmed puppet, leading to Achmed saying he wishes he were animated. Then the animated film begins, with Achmed riding a motorcycle with a bomb across the desert. His first line, which is directed at us, is “I will kill you.” Perfect. His boss calls him on his cell phone, upset that Achmed hasn’t killed any infidels, and calls him “the worst terrorist in the whole non-Muslim world,” a nice way of not offending people while simultaneously making fun of the idea of having to avoid offending people. Achmed responds, “As a devout non-Muslim, I am offended by that.” He then accidentally blows himself up, becoming the skeleton terrorist that we all know and love, and in the process landing on a plane heading for the United States.

He ends up in a town called Americaville, with plans to kill everyone. He is soon picked up a family who believes he is Claude, the French exchange student they were supposed to meet at the airport. Achmed keeps a terrorist journal, which creates opportunities for him to voice his observations. Seeing foreclosure and “For Sale” signs, Achmed notes, “Their town is in terrible shape and their lives are filled with emptiness and failure, yet they don’t take the obvious route of blowing themselves and everyone around them up.”

Achmed soon loves the people of the town and joins in a parade (“where people wait all night to get great seats to watch other people walk”). The boy in the family secretly wishes to be a ventriloquist (perhaps modeled on a young Jeff Dunham), leading Achmed to say, “That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” (I always appreciate when folks poke fun at themselves like that.)

There are some really funny lines that had me laughing aloud, like when Achmed notes, “These are nothing like the Americans I was taught to hate, which makes me hate them more” (which is followed with, “Plus, I had no idea women could drive”). And when a redneck says, “You’re the real hero, two hundred and ten percent American,” Achmed reponds, “You people suck at mathematics.”

I love that this movie pokes fun at Bill O’Reilly, Oprah Winfrey and crazy cult member Tom Cruise. There’s also a good joke regarding the television series 24, and an E.T. reference. But there are also some weak jokes, like the blow job/leaf blower bit. The movie is a bit on the tame side, which surprised me, as I expected it to be a little edgier. Achmed comes to love America pretty quickly, and so he becomes a bit soft. There are some obvious, easy targets, like the early shot of a street with nothing but Starbucks coffee shops.

But I did laugh out loud several times. I really appreciate this line (spoken by the redneck character): “It ain’t ironic if you don’t get the joke.” There is also a musical sequence.

Special Features

The DVD contains some bonus material, including The Making Of Achmed Saves America, in which Jeff Dunham talks about the characters and about doing many of the voices himself (we see footage of him recording the various parts). There are also short interviews and behind-the-scenes footage with Perry Zombolas (storyboard artist), Mike Guerena (colorist), Ryan Mattos (animator) and Leo Papin (editor). This bonus feature is approximately five minutes long.

There is also a commentary track by Jeff Dunham, Kelly Asbury (who directed Gnomeo And Juliet, wrote a book about ventriloquists and helped Jeff Dunham design the look of the characters for the special) and Michael Price (who wrote the script for Achmed Saves America, and also writes for The Simpsons). Jeff Dunham mentions that the animators, without telling him, placed Jeff's other characters in the background throughout the movie (including Walter and Peanut). They discuss the style of the animation.

Achmed Saves America is scheduled to be released on DVD and Blu-ray on March 18, 2014.

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