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Jeff Dunham's Achmed Saves America Blu-ray Review

Jeff Dunham's Achmed Saves America (2014) Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Achmed Saves America

Running Time: 61 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Frank Marino / Writers: Michael Price (screenplay); Steve Marmel (additional story material); Jeff Dunham (character)

Voice Cast: Jeff Dunham (Achmed the Dead Terrorist, Chet Anderson, Bill O'Reilly, Father O'Malley, Rabbi Weisman, General Charles McCarthy), Susan Egan (Jenny Wilson), Tom Kenny (Wayne Wilson), Andre' Sogliuzzo (Hassan al-Hassan), Amanda Troop (Cassidy Wilson), Chiara Zanni (Kevin Wilson), Lori Allen (Ev Anderson), Jess Harnell, Stephen Stanton (CNN Reporter), Gary Anthony Williams (Mayor McKuen)

1.78:1 Widescreen / Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired; Video Extra Subtitled; Not Closed Captioned
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25) / Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Blu-ray Release Date: March 18, 2014 / Scheduled Air Date: March 28, 2014
Suggested Retail Price: $22.98; Also available on DVD ($16.99)

Buy Achmed Saves America from Amazon: Blu-ray DVD

Jeff Dunham's extraordinary annual earnings have taken a slight dip in recent years. Forbes declared him the top-earning comedian with $22.5 million in revenue in 2009. The magazine's 2013 list placed him 4th with $19 million. The decline seems to reflect Dunham's drop in stature. The by far most profitable ventriloquist in history still performs at large venues around the globe up to twelve times a month.
These performances, tickets of which sell for $40 to $90, remain a steady source of income and inspire remarkable merchandise sales. But Dunham's profile seems to have plateaued. A few years back, he was a homegrown phenomenon, whose television specials repeatedly shattered Comedy Central ratings records. His latest, 2012's Minding the Monsters, didn't even win the night, falling to Lifetime's Steel Magnolias. There's also the failure of "The Jeff Dunham Show", a short-lived flop that seemed to cool off Comedy Central's love of the comic at the end of 2009.

One is truly blessed to "only" make $19 million a year and "only" attract 5 million viewers for their ventriloquism special. Dunham's success with the general public has always been at odds with critical assessment and many of those in the stand-up industry. There's still a huge gap between those entities, but maybe it's starting to close slightly. That might explain why Dunham's latest venture, Achmed Saves America, an hour-long animated movie is premiering at 10 PM on a Friday night on CMT and ten days after it is released to DVD and Blu-ray by Comedy Central.

Achmed the Dead Terrorist falls down to America via a plane in Jeff Dunham's animated special "Achmed Saves America." After accidentally hitting him with their minivan, the Wilson family is stupid enough to mistake Achmed for French foreign exchange student Claude and take him in.

Dunham's comedy has been nothing if not disappointing to me, so the prospect of him taking one of his obnoxious, stereotypical characters -- turban-topped, bushy-browed talking skeleton Achmed the Dead Terrorist -- and putting him in what looks like a Seth MacFarlane cartoon universe sounds absolutely terrible.

Though you can't judge a disc by its cover, in this case, you kind of can. Achmed Saves America meets the low expectations its hybrid creates, but it's still a little easier to endure than Dunham's traditional specials. Dunham and puppet Achmed appear in the live-action beginning of this 61-minute program to establish the premise. "Tinker Bubba" grants Achmed's wish to become animated like his inexplicable favorite cartoon characters, Tigger and Eeyore.

Achmed's story begins with him alive in his home nation of Mizpakmanistan, where he bungles what would have been his first act of terrorism and kills himself in the process. Death, of course, is not the end of the line for Achmed. In skeleton state, he is lifted by an eagle and then carried by a plane and dropped off in Americaville, U.S.A. There, he is hit by a minivan and introduced to its owners. The Wilsons, an ordinary family of four plus a dog named Bill, mistake Achmed for Claude, the French foreign exchange student they somehow missed at the airport. The hateful Achmed is welcomed into this home of "infidels", where he begins plotting the demise of his hosts and their neighbors, not so secretly building a bomb.

Moved by America's hospitality, Achmed does a 180-degree change, embracing the nation wholeheartedly as evidenced by his Uncle Sam costume.

Achmed's plans suddenly change when he experiences the hospitality of this community, which welcomes him with heartfelt song. He returns the favor with "I Was Wrong",
the special's second and final original song. The "French boy" disarms his bomb at the last minute and makes over Americaville's famed Big Rock Rock into a new and improved version of Mount Rushmore featuring stone likenesses of Donald Trump, Taylor Swift, Tom Cruise, and Lance Armstrong.

Yes, Achmed Saves America is replete with pop culture references, which will date it extremely, to some potential future value. Dunham's comedy usually doesn't incorporate celebrities, but "Family Guy" and "South Park" do, so many famous people and things are skewered in jokes (Michelle Obama, Garrison Keillor, "Glee") and unflattering cameos (Bill O'Reilly, Rachel Maddow, Oprah Winfrey, Mitt Romney). Until now, Dunham's comedy has been more about stereotypes than satire, so it remains to be seen if his fans can get behind this MacFarlane-esque topical and political humor.

References to current icons actually serve to soften the sting and fatigue of Achmed's shtick. I can only recall one utterance of his most famous catchphrase ("I keel you!"). Of course, the bulk of the special still relies on tired stereotypes... about the nation at large: Americans are ignorant, racist, fat, and wasteful. It's curious to see Dunham, who didn't write this but executive-produced it and voices Achmed and many minor characters, make fun of the people that have made him a millionaire many times over. But then, isn't that what he's always done, his act of grotesque racist and redneck puppets entertaining those who can relate to the politically incorrect behavior the ventriloquist disapproves of (and prospers off of). There's always been a current of disingenuousness to Dunham's comedy which has factored into the critical opposition.

Perhaps we shouldn't read too much into something relatively harmless and soon forgotten, labels that Achmed Saves America certainly wears.


Using just 9.99 GB of data, this is one of the lightest Blu-rays I've encountered, but that doesn't mean that the feature presentation is lacking in the slightest. The 1.78:1 picture is flawless, presenting the simple Korean-animated Flash visuals without any imperfection whatsoever. The default Dolby TrueHD 5.1 is impressive too, undoubtedly the most active and directional of any Jeff Dunham BD.

Jeff Dunham talks about the special in front of a wall of production art in "The Making of 'Achmed Saves America.'" Achmed's expression changes in front of the Wilsons' home on the Blu-ray's subtly animated top menu.


The Blu-ray includes two bonus features. "The Making of Achmed Saves America" (4:52, HD) isn't quite the big ordeal you suspect from the case's three-bullet listing. Basically an extended trailer,
it promotes the special with Dunham describing the rationale behind it and its characters, footage of the voice cast recording their lines (including a showcase of Dunham's Robin Williams-style versatility), and glimpses at the American end of the computer animation and production processes.

In addition to that, the Set Up menu holds an audio commentary by Jeff Dunham "and friends." I assumed that meant Dunham would be doing his voices for Achmed, Walter, Peanut, etc. Fortunately, he takes it more seriously and is joined by Shrek 2 director and ventriloquism historian Kelly Asbury, who helped with character design, and writer Michael Price. They talk about wanting a distinctive look, an evidently unrealized extra that would allow you to watch the whole special with voice actors recording their lines, the 3-year production as compared to Asbury's even longer feature films experiences, little details easily missed on a first viewing, and having to trim this down to 42 minutes for commercial broadcast (something they hadn't yet done at the time of recording). Curious parties should find it short enough to not regret making time for.

The menu plays ambient noises while ever so slightly animating a shot of Achmed and the Wilsons flipped from the cover art. The disc does not support bookmarking but does gladly resume unfinished playback after powering down.

Isn't that funny?! After revealing Achmed's true identity, his boss Hassan al-Hassan tries to sneak them INTO Mexico. To hearty citizen applause, Achmed turns Americaville's Big Rock Rock into something to rival Mount Rushmore with the stone likenesses of Donald Trump, Taylor Swift, Tom Cruise, and Lance Armstrong.


It's refreshing to see Jeff Dunham attempt something new for one of his characters and Achmed Saves America is more watchable than the stand-up specials with their uglier content and rapturous audience reception. Still, this special is comparable to an hour of Seth MacFarlane animation, its lazy satire peppered with pop culture references and never all that funny. I suspect that Dunham's fans and his haters will equally find this disappointing in some way, should they even take notice of its existence.

The Blu-ray deserves praise for its terrific picture and sound plus inclusion of decent bonus features, but it's not something I can recommend you spending time or money on.

Buy Achmed Saves America from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD

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Related Reviews:
The Jeff Dunham Show Jeff Dunham: Minding the Monsters Jeff Dunham: Controlled Chaos Dinner for Schmucks From Up on Poppy Hill
The Dictator Ugly Americans: Volume One Beavis and Butt-Head: Volume 4 Gravity Falls: Six Strange Tales Teacher's Pet
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Reviewed March 14, 2014.

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