Released in 1997 as a made-for-HBO movie, The Second Civil War— directed by the great Joe Dante– is a dark comedy for our dark political times. With a plot centered around an immigration issue that divides the country and spirals out of control, and a cast that features a dipshit president, irresponsible journalists, and a governor who closes his state’s borders to immigrants, this thing seems even more relevant now than it was back in ’97.
A satire with a thematic thread about the nature of facts and truth in media, politics, and culture running through it, the movie is cutting and unmerciful to its subjects, perhaps due to the fact that its writer, Martyn Burke, started his writing career as a journalist covering the Viet Nam war. And mixed in with the scathing social and political commentary is the kind of slapstick humor seen in the 80s spy movie spoof Top Secret!— directed by Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker and co-written by Burke– which works to reinforce the absurdity of it all without softening the blow when the film goes all in with its premise.
I saw The Second Civil War for the first time a few weeks back and found it to be the most appropriately cynical film about culture and media I’ve seen since Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole, but with the tragic farce– or farcical tragedy– tone of Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s bleak as fuck. If you watch it, maybe double feature it with another great Dante flick, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, which rips into commercialism via a Trump-like character but won’t leave you staring so deep into the abyss.
Then, just to have a load of laughs and unburden your heavy heart, maybe top the whole thing off with Dante’s Innerspace.