What we have here is part ink-dark political satire and part family-squabbling-over the-Thanksgiving-turkey comedy. It works for the first half-hour or so but ultimately becomes a 93-minute movie that feels way, way too long. Rating: 2 stars out of 4.
Ike Barinholtz’s “The Oath” begins with a premise both utterly chilling and entirely believable: A politically liberal couple, Chris (Barinholtz) and Kai (Tiffany Haddish), are horrified to hear that a new White House policy asks all Americans to sign a pledge of loyalty to the president. (It is, explains a perky press secretary, a way to identify the real patriots — “people we know we can count on.”) Fast-forward 10 months, and it’s Thanksgiving weekend — both the deadline for signing of the pledge, and the occasion for gathering Chris’s family (some of whose members do not share his politics).
Essentially, what we have here is part ink-dark political satire and part family-squabbling-over the-Thanksgiving-turkey comedy, and for the first half-hour or so it’s a pretty heady mixture as the family gathers. (Meredith Hagner makes Chris’ brother’s girlfriend — who likes pizza with only pineapple on it, nothing else — deliciously annoying.) But things go downhill once a pair of government agents (John Cho, Billy Magnussen) show up, presumably in search of those who haven’t yet signed the oath. The wit of the early scenes melts away, and too quickly the satire has no place to go.
Writer/director Barinholtz, who played goofball nurse Morgan on TV’s “The Mindy Project,” has a promising idea, and wisely makes his own character just as irritating as nearly everyone else. (Chris is a self-congratulating control freak; you imagine that this family has awkward Thanksgivings even minus the politics.) But the plot starts to go south once Kai makes a revelation that makes no sense, and eventually everything devolves into a lot of blood and screaming, with too much talent (particularly Haddish) wasted. Political satire is one of the trickiest of genres; this one, running out of steam and nerve, ultimately becomes a too-familiar example of another genre: the 93-minute movie that feels way, way too long.
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★★ “The Oath,” with Ike Barinholtz, Tiffany Haddish, Nora Dunn, Chris Ellis, John Barinholtz, Meredith Hagner, Carrie Brownstein, Billy Magnussen, John Cho. Written and directed by Ike Barinholtz. 93 minutes. Rated R for language throughout, violence and some drug use. Opens Oct. 19 at multiple theaters.