“Free Lunch Express” scores dozens of points simply for being comically subversive.
How many satirists take aim at Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders these days? Sure, “Saturday Night Live” and the late night crew mock the Vermont pol for his phlegmy speech patterns and old guy appearance.
Those are knee jerk jokes that write themselves.
They rarely torch his policies or sketchy back story, not to mention the true cost of his vision. Nor do comics leverage his signature issue – socialism, 21st century style. Sanders doesn’t use the term to speak to clueless Millennials.
He really, truly means it.
Enter “Free Lunch Express,” a political farce that wears its low budget on its sleeve. What’s missing are the deeper cuts and the acknowledgement that Sanders is a power broker in today’s political climate.
The comedy follows a young Bernie Sanders (Jonah Britton) as he falls head over heels for the Soviet Union. It’s cute, and comical, and captured in brisk, bold strokes. Writer/director Lenny Britton (“The World According to Billy Potwin”) shows a flair for political comedy, but only in fits and starts.
The bulk of the film follows a young-ish to middle-aged Bernie (Sam Brittan, excellent) as he flounders his way through life.
The narrative hits the expected milestones, from his days as Mayor of Burlington to dreaming of a White House takeover. In between, he took every short cut that came his way and railed against capitalism whenever he could.
His clashes with a City Hall office drone are often priceless.
Some of the better gags, like a clueless Sanders leaving nameless “Vote for Me” placards around town, sag as the camera stays on them for far too long. Other sequences, like a romantic montage with Bernie and his first wife, prove visually spry but miss the comic mojo to sell the material.
Better are regular appearances by ice cream hippies Ben and Jerry along with “Comrade Stalin” and his love of gulags.
— @FreeLunchExpress – The Movie (@FreeLunchExpres) November 25, 2020
“Free Lunch Express” ignores something vital about the Sanders phenomenon. It’s a … phenomenon. To deny that is to deny reality.
The satire could have leaned into Sanders’ pie in the sky fan base to get that message across. Instead, it pretends as if he’s failing all the way up. It’s not quite true, at least in recent years. He’s a political force who threatened both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. That’s hardly the guy showcased here who can’t draw a crowd.
The elder Bernie (Charles Hutchins) lacks Brittan’s comic crackle, and a Hillary Clinton segue feels like warmed over comic gruel.
Black Lives Matter gets name checked late in the satire, but there’s little to digest beyond the obvious sloganeering. Even a late appearance by AOC herself (a plucky Laura Aleman) can’t enliven the third act.
Narrated by Malcolm McDowell, yes, that Malcolm McDowell, “Free Lunch Express” delivers 40-plus minutes of broadly comic morsels trapped in a 75-plus minute feature.
HiT or Miss: Conservatives starved for comedy that speaks to them will accept the flawed but sporadically funny “Free Lunch Express.” They’ll still realize it’s only a half-baked takedown of a socialist hero.