There are the things you admit to in Hollywood--that you've been to rehab, that you wrecked your first marriage, that it took 12 people to pick out your outfit. And then there's the thing you don't admit to: that you vote Republican. "I preface it by saying I've been convicted of child molestation, and that breaks the ice," says director David Zucker of sharing his political views with liberal-leaning colleagues. "Then being Republican doesn't seem so bad to them."
About as common per capita as vegans in Texas, Republicans in Hollywood are having a coming-out party of sorts in Zucker's new movie, An American Carol. Hollywood's first brazenly right-wing comedy, it borrows Dickens' A Christmas Carol narrative to tell the story of left-wing activist and documentarian Michael Malone, whose disdain for his country runs so deep, he's campaigning to abolish the Fourth of July. An obvious jab at lefty filmmaker Michael Moore, Malone's character is played by Kevin Farley, brother of the late comic Chris Farley. The actor shares Moore's blocky build but not his politics: in real life, Farley is a Republican. So are the actors who play three ghosts who visit Malone to awaken his patriotism--Kelsey Grammer as George Patton, Jon Voight as George Washington and Chriss Anglin as Republicans' favorite Democrat, John F. Kennedy. Conservative country singer Trace Adkins shows up as the angel of death, and Bill O'Reilly plays another imposing figure: himself. To persuade Malone, the ghosts frighten him with visions of classic liberal villains--zombie ACLU lawyers staggering into court, Ivy League professors singing a ditty about being stuck in the '60s, and Jimmy Carter addressing a crowd of sheeplike antiwar protesters. "If you can explode a cliché or point out the emperor has no clothes, you've got something an audience will respond to and hopefully laugh at," says Zucker.
He should know. Zucker virtually invented the spoof film with his '80s comedies Airplane! and The Naked Gun, and with Scary Movie 3 and 4, he has continued to make good money, if not exactly art, in the genre. But snagging a distributor for this red-state satire, which was funded by the late Wisconsin construction billionaire Ken Hendricks and his wife Diane, was no easy task. "We're trying to find movies that the conservative side of the country will desire," says Carol producer Stephen McEveety, whose Mpower Pictures had a low-budget hit last year with the pro-life drama Bella. "But do you know any filmmakers who would make them or studios that would release them?" McEveety eventually secured a release for Carol in more than 2,000 theaters in the U.S. through Vivendi, a French firm that is expanding from home entertainment into theatrical distribution. American companies shied away for political reasons, not financial ones, the filmmakers believe.
That's because, movie-industry Republicans will tell you quietly, tilting right in Hollywood isn't just rare; it can hurt your career. "Why aren't there more Republicans in Hollywood?" asks Voight. "If you answer that, you get into trouble." He recently wrote an anti--Barack Obama Op-Ed in the Washington Times that led a Hollywood blogger to suggest that producers should deny him roles. "If they don't like my acting, that's one thing," Voight says. "But to encourage a blacklisting of somebody for their political views?"
Last year Hollywood released several movies critical of the war on terrorism. Despite featuring such stars as Tom Cruise and Reese Witherspoon, they fizzled at the box office. An American Carol pumps up the war, as the ghosts reveal to Malone the "real America," with visits to ground zero and a backyard family picnic at the home of his nephew, who is about to ship out to Iraq. And though conservatives aren't exactly known to rush the box office like comic-book fans, McEveety remains sanguine. "It's great business to service all audiences, including conservative audiences," he says. He has the experience to back up that strategy. He produced another movie the studios passed on, The Passion of the Christ, which, thanks to conservatives who showed up at cinemas in droves, became one of the most profitable films of all time.