Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington’s Adult Swim show, On Cinema at the Cinema, has birthed so many wacky offshoots– a podcast! a spinoff show! a rock band and EDM remix! Oscar specials! live tours! Twitter battles! fan recaps!– that it’s hard to believe its creators haven’t explored every possible outlet for their shtick, which can best be described as Siskel and Ebert on crack (or rather, on Dr. San’s Nutritional Vaping Technology). But last night, after the opening of their first feature film, they revealed that the beginnings of an earlier On Cinema movie are lying around somewhere.
“A long time ago we wrote, like, the first third of an On Cinema movie,” Heidecker told the crowd at Metrograph after a screening of Mister America, a mockumentary chronicling his On Cinema alterego’s run for San Bernardino District Attorney.
Heidecker recounted the premise of the abandoned script, written before or around the time of Decker, the On Cinema spinoff about a Stallone-esque CIA agent: “My Tim Heidecker character was going to make a movie; he was going to be kind of a Decker-ish person, a cop trying to solve this murder, and he goes to his friend who’s a movie buff [and gets] all these stupid clues, like Singing in the Rain.”
Heidecker described it as an “idiotic, idiotic idea,” but Turkington wasn’t so quick to dismiss it. “I forgot about that,” he said. “I want to dig that up and see if there’s anything in there.”
For now, the two have their hands full promoting Mister America (not to mention, Heidecker is set to tour again with his Tim & Eric partner Eric Wareheim, a producer of the movie). Heidecker said that although the film was made on a whim (in just three days, with a minuscule cast and crew), its release has been somewhat “scary and stressful and exhausting,” since “every time we poke our heads into the mainstream, you do get this wave of the mainstream swatting you down, like: ‘There’s nothing funny about this. Go away.'”
This was no doubt a reference to reviews with headlines like the New York Times one: “The Returns Are In: Diminishing.” In what Heidecker singled out as an “insane and bad review,” one critic scolded the mockumentary, which picks up with Heidecker’s character after he has dodged prosecution for causing a mass vaping overdose at a fictitious EDM festival, for supposedly making light of “major-event crimes” like Fyre Festival and the Pulse nightclub shooting.
That passage, which has since been deleted from the review, was widely mocked by On Cinema‘s “friendly army,” as Heidecker described them, of cult fans. Other reviews have been similarly laughed off. A typical comment accuses one critic of being “one of Rosetti’s rat minions,” a reference to the fictitious San Bernardino DA who prosecuted “Tim” (as we’ll call Heidecker’s character) for the Electric Sun tragedy and whom Tim biliously, blusterously tries to unseat in the mockumentary. If you had to read that sentence twice, then you’re either Tim attempting to get through a log line during an On Cinema review, or you’re sensing that Mister America is best appreciated by fans who’ve been following On Cinema‘s increasingly absurd plot over the course of eleven seasons.
Director Eric Notarnicola, who previously experimented with blurring fiction and reality as a writer for Nathan For You and Sacha Baron Cohen’s Who Is America?, does his best to let newbs and normies in on the joke. But for the sadly uninitiated, the similarities to another buffoon-turned-politician might be a little too close for comfort, what with Tim’s ill-fitting slacks, disingenuous swamp-draining promises, dirty politicking, borderline illiteracy, steady diet of McDonald’s, and his belief that Martin Luther King, Jr. is a “founding father” from San Bernardino. The only thing Heidecker doesn’t do in this film is grab pussies, even if he’s suspiciously cozy with the immigrant-hating, wine-swilling white lady (brilliantly played by Terri Parks) who helps him botch every step of his campaign out of a shared hotel room.
To be fair, Mister America has also received some rave reviews. And last night, Justin Gaynor, who hosts Adult Swim’s On Cinema fan show Big Unhappy Family, asked Heidecker and Turkington if the negative ones might have something to do with the fact that they’ve spent eight years “shitting on film critics.”
“I predicted that,” said Turkington, who plays the ultimate insufferable cinema nerd, the curator of a homegrown VHS “archive” who, despite his obsessive pilgrimages to obscure filming locations, has only the most superficial knowledge of his “popcorn classics” (by the way, the run time of Mister America is 86 minutes). “I was like, ‘There could be some payback time for this.'”
Heidecker added that they’ve both “talked to a few critics off the record who are just like, ‘This is a very stupid profession we have here; this is stupid what we’re doing [and] it’s getting worse.”
And yet, if we’re to believe Turkington, On Cinema has had a curative effect. “A critic I met the other night at our screening in LA, who had reviewed over 1,500 movies for a very well-known newspaper, said that after watching On Cinema he stopped.”
Needless to say, the On Cinema family tipped their hats to that. Well, except for the Greggheads, who refused to take them off.
“Mister America” continues at Metrograph through Oct. 17 and starts streaming Oct. 11.