Dragon Eats Eagle aims to be a Dr. Strangelove-style satire of contemporary American politics, but that’s a big lift when writer-director Noah Marks’ primary source of information seems to be conservative essayists and Twitter personalities. There’s no doubt that the intent was not to make an explicitly conservative film — as, to some extent, it attempts to make fun of both sides. But it’s hard to believe a conservative preference wasn’t baked into the film when there are constant interstitials about the dangers of liberals, and the movie seems obsessed with a Hillary Clinton analog as the primary mover of the shadow American political elite. It’s like a lower-budget, but no less annoyingly pontificating, right-wing version of Don’t Look Up.
Ralph (Charlie Ferrara) and Tucker (Harrison Marx) are two immortals who have seen it all — Pompeii, the Middle Ages, the founding of the United States. They even wrote (well, named) the Monroe Doctrine. They’re kept alive by a Mesopotamian board game they can’t stop playing until one of them wins. To pass the time, Ralph and Tucker have become low-level functionaries for the shadowy cabal of political movers and shakers who truly run the American government. Tasks include working alongside Dr. Tony Fiasco (Ed Altman), a flatulent old CDC spook who helps them start an epidemic using a virus brought over from China; dealing with Rich Jonsie (Marks), an Alex Jones stand-in; and helping defraud the United States to allow an infirm old man to become President in 2020. The two immortals are pretty nonchalant about their tasks. They just keep on living.
The central problem with Dragon Eats Eagle is one of balance. My own personal politics aside, Marks’ script is frustratingly unfocused, jumping from his two Immortals to non-sequitur conservative interstitials and endless scenes with Madam Evergreen (Kathy Richter), whose Hillary-esque shadow President feels like the sort of comedy material relevant only to old men reading chain emails. Seriously, Hillary Clinton? It’s been six years since she was remotely relevant in American politics, which is a lifetime. It’s such a bizarre fixation that the potentially interesting elements of the concept are entirely lost.
That is not to say Tucker and Ralph are interesting characters; their conversations are the sort of usual sophomoric philosophical fluff seen in a lot of independent films. It’s the stuff of college campuses, which is odd given that they’re immortal. It’s hard to understand, from a story perspective, why Tucker cares so much about taxes in the United States circa 2019. It’s hard to imagine an immortal spouting a line like “We’re a Republic, not a Democracy” when he’s supposedly witnessed countless different forms of political participation. Although the film ultimately settles on a perspective that acknowledges the reality of COVID-19 (while suspicious of its origins and, for some reason, Clinton’s involvement), it’s never interested in the way two immortal men would view yet another pandemic, the likes of which they surely lived through countless times.
Perhaps in seeking political balance, Marks takes aim at both Donald Trump (referred to as “the fat man”) and Mike Pence (recast as an eyepatch-wearing, gun-toting wild man named Vice President Hoosier). It’s noteworthy that of all the political figures he pokes fun at, Pence is the one who has to be completely altered despite being an inherently hysterical figure. Here we have a man who started in conservative talk radio in my very own hometown of Indianapolis and who spent the 1990s sucking up to Republican leaders and writing about the dangers of Disney movies and the harmlessness of Big Tobacco. Pence is a man whose entire life of brown-nosing the worst people in the world landed him trapped in the United States Capitol while the primary audience for Dragon Eats Eagle attempted to hang him. That’s far funnier than making him seem like a violent wacko.
Look: There’s certainly space enough for Dragon Eats Eagle in the broader realm of political comedies. People vote that way! Again, politics aside: The greatest issue with this film isn’t its technical accomplishments, it’s the focus. My comparison to Don’t Look Up — written by smug liberals who can’t stop tweeting — reflects that neither film can figure out the story it wants to tell without getting sidetracked by rants to which only a very small audience will nod along. The success of something like Dr. Strangelove is that — besides actually being funny and filled with memorable moments — it captured a zeitgeist. Not all of Dr. Strangelove‘s humor has survived nearly 60 years, but enough of its anxieties are recognizable even to generations who haven’t grown up in the same world as the one in which it was created. Dragon Eats Eagle is so excited to throw punches at silly bullshit Marks read online that it never lands as anything but a cinematic rant, destined to be an example of technical acumen on a résumé and nothing more.