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American Son (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 24, 2023

American Son

American Son


Starring Nick Cannon, Melonie Diaz, Matt O’Leary, Tom Sizemore, April Grace, Jay Hernandez, Chi McBride, Sean Marquette, Michael Welch, Percy Daggs III and Ray Santiago.

Screenplay by Eric Schmid.

Directed by Neil Abramson.

Distributed by Miramax Films.  84 minutes.  Rated R.

Back when Bush and Cheney were trying to sell the American people on the war in Iraq, they kept insisting that we had to fight the Iraqis there so that we wouldn’t have to fight them here.

That argument apparently didn’t catch on in Hollywood, however.  We are now years into the conflict and several films have been made about the war – and yet pretty much all of them take place right here in the United States.

Either these films are looks at soldiers on leave back home or they concentrate on the friends and relatives left behind.  If we ever periodically see action on enemy soil, it always seems to be in flashbacks.

None of the Iraq-based movies have been great but some have been fairly good – Stop-Loss, Grace is Gone, The Lucky Ones and Blue State all had their moments.  The latest film to look at the conflict seems to have good intentions, but honestly it’s one of the least believable yet.

American Son stars comedian Nick Cannon as Mike Holland, a Marine who has a short leave at home in Bakersfield, Ca. before he has to ship off to Iraq – though he tells no one that he is going off to war until the very last minute.  While home, he meets and falls in love with Cristina (Melonie Diaz), a saucy Latina he meets on the bus, hangs out with his dead-end loser of a best friend (Matt O’Leary), reconnects with his parents and step-father (Chi McBride, April Grace and Tom Sizemore) and essentially runs out the clock before shipping off.

It is not fair to hold MTV, the tabloids, comedy and Mariah Carey against Nick Cannon.  I will admit that even in this movie, he’s not a bad actor.  I just have to say I never bought him as a Marine for a second.  His character is too goofy, too good-hearted, too soft-spoken, too sensitive.  I know that it is simplistic to assume that all Marines are tough, hardened, macho guys, however the past Marine icon that Cannon’s portrayal reminded me most of was Gomer Pyle gone street.

Also, sadly, I never really bought the love relationship.  It seems too fast.  In a matter of hours they seem to be determined that they are soul mates forever.  He’s introducing her to his buddies, she is introducing him to her family, and the audience is still trying to figure out where this burning passion is coming from.  The time we see them together, honestly, is no great shakes.  Too often it’s just him saying something absurd like being with her “makes me want to eat the world,” and her smiling and telling him that she loves how his mind works.

However, the relationship does lead to one stone-cold gem of a scene, when Cristina takes him to meet a cousin who is recently back from Iraq and lost a leg.  The two men, bonding over a war that horrifies and yet seduces them, is by far the strongest moment here.

Otherwise, honestly, we are not sure what Mike thinks of his upcoming deployment.  He’s obviously somewhat frightened, but he never acknowledges it or explains it.  In fact, at one point where they show him having a bad dream about combat, the audience has to think, wait a second; he hasn’t even shipped out yet, right?  How is he having flashbacks?

The truth is, too, for as good a guy that Mike is made out to be, he can be a real asshole, too.  It seems very sleazy – no matter what his reasons – that he leads Cristina to believe that he will be stationed not far from where she is going to college until right after they finally have sex.  There is also a scene in which his dope-dealing best friend points out that ever since he got back from the Marines he is being all superior and judging everyone.  The guy may even deserve the judgment, but honestly, he’s not wrong about Mike.

In fact, this movie has a bad, bad habit of having characters get into angry, emotional fights in one scene and the next scene they are all acting as if it never happened and they are best buddies again.  This happens with the love interest, the mother, the best friend…  Yes, I understand that in such a limited leave people have to make up quickly or they never will, but still the audience of a movie rather expects to see some of the healing process so they don’t feel like they are just getting jerked around by a screenplay.

Like most of the other films about Iraq, American Son seems to be pretty politically neutral about the war – there are some vaguely pro or anti-war moments in the film but for the most part it does not judge.

There is an interesting story struggling to get out in American Son.  Too bad it never quite makes it.

Alex Diamond

Copyright ©2009 All rights reserved. Posted: August 25, 2009.

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