Like a found-footage cam straight out of the Blair Witch Project, Tim Heidecker, Gregg Turkington and Eric Notarnicola’s experimental vérité Mister America closes with a slanted shot of a hapless flower, barely holding its own and backdropped by sunset desert skies. As a whole, the mockumentary feels much the same.
The 90-minute film hones in on Heidecker in the final month of his bid for San Bernardino, California District Attorney. In a meta-move, a filmmaker follows the campaign trail as what is at first a profile of an outsider candidate unravels into an investigation of Heidecker's crooked past, motivations, fraudulent behavior and delusions of grandeur. Along with his campaign manager (Terri Parks), Heidecker attempts to get on the ballot — yes, he doesn’t even have enough signatures to be anything more than a write-in — in a city he doesn’t even live in. (Though he points out multiple times that his mail is delivered to the hotel so he must be a resident, right?)
His platform? A 100-percent reduction in crime and reverting San Bernardino back to “the good old days.” But Heidecker’s real reason for running is to pester the current DA, Vincent Rosetti. (Rosetti barely lost a court case against Heidecker, who was charged with the murders of 19 young people at the Electric Music Festival via vape pens.)
Heidecker is decidedly Trumpian, with a dash of Fyre Festival's Billy McFarland. He’s often seen guzzling Bud Light, ordering Terri around, throwing objects when things don’t go his away, being a lazy oaf and generally just obnoxious. He hangs up campaign signs that read “We have a Rat Problem” in restaurant storefronts in an attempt to persuade the public in his favor; he strolls into diners and barbershops to chat with locals — Facebook Live videos of him eating pie from his “favorite” family-owned restaurant in San Bernardino and walking around various neighborhoods yield little traction.
But there’s never a doubt that his campaign has already tanked from the start. The film itself drills this sketch into the ground. Perhaps if the audience believed — even for a moment — that Heidecker was actually running for office, Mister America would be more successful. After all, that a baffling idiot can have a chance in an election isn’t all that shocking in our current political climate. Instead, the movie feels like a more nihilistic take on Nathan for You.
This deadpan, slightly uneasy and heavily impromptu style is not unlike Heidecker ’s other projects: Mister America often references lore from the web series On Cinema at the Cinema, starring Turkington and Heidecker and directed by Notarnicola. And fans of On Cinema or Heidecker’s other ventures — he’s well-known for Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! — will likely enjoy the flick. If you haven’t yet ventured into this universe, which is just as expansive as Marvel's, I wouldn’t start here; the funniest bits are the self-referential ones.
Those same off-kilter characters elicit laughs here. At its best, Mister America is off-the-cuff and absurd. Perhaps most impressive is the film’s prediction of the current vaping-related deaths that have made international headlines. But as the campaign ravages on and Heidecker becomes increasingly bitter, Mister America lacks humanity. And that’s likely the point.
For one night only — 7:30 p.m. Oct. 9 — you can catch Mister America at the Esquire Theatre. Following the screening, viewers will be treated to a live-stream discussion between Heidecker and Turkington and one deleted scene from the film. Grade: C+