The Oath


With a disturbing presidential administration having turned him into a news junkie, Chris (Ike Barinholtz, "Blockers") is astonished at the announcement that citizens will be asked to sign a loyalty oath, presumably with no penalties for abstaining but tax incentives for complying. He and his wife Kai (Tiffany Haddish) vow to never sign. But with the deadline approaching on the day after Thanksgiving, Homeland Security's new Citizens Protection Unit has begun arresting demonstrators and with Chris's politically divided family due to start arriving early in the week, Kai is determined to keep the peace as Chris erupts over "The Oath."


Laura's Review: C-

Writer/director/star Ike Barinholtz has certainly hit on a timely topic for satire, one so on the nose real life events kept catching up with his screenplay. But although Barinholtz has tried to level the playing field by making his own character obnoxiously overbearing, the deck is obviously stacked in his favor as even his conservative brother Pat (Ike's real life brother Jon Barinholtz) and his Tomi Lahren-esque girlfriend Abbie (Meredith Hagner) become horrified at how things play out once the CPU comes knocking on Chris and Kai's door. This is a satire that turns into home invasion horror only to screw the pooch with a toothless ending. It's also not very funny, relying on R-rated insult humor and brother-in-law Clark's (Jay Duplass) odiferous intestinal illness. The only jokes that evoke a chuckle are ageist ones involving Chris's parents Eleanor (Nora Dunn) and Hank (Chris Ellis). As Chris leaves for his last day of work before his week long Thanksgiving break, he commiserates with Kai about enduring his parents, due to arrive before he returns home. But Kai doesn't seem at all perturbed as she gets their daughter Hardy (Priah Ferguson) ready for school. Chris's first setback comes from an unexpected place, a friendly coworker (Max Greenfield) who informs him that he's gone ahead and signed the oath of loyalty to president and country. Arriving home already riled up, Chris is repeatedly told to hold his tongue as his dad fumbles with the television remote trying to watch football. Things escalate with the arrival of Pat and Abbie, especially as Chris keeps mistakenly calling Abbie by Pat's prior girlfriend's name. The last to appear are Chris's more like-minded but much milder sister Alice (Carrie Brownstein) and her ailing husband Clark who spends most of the film off screen in bed. Predictably, Thanksgiving dinner quickly deteriorates, Chris declaring that everyone who's signed the oath should be 'hung like pigs.' He's in for a shock. But nothing has prepared anyone for what happens the next day when CPU agents Peter (John Cho) and Mason (Billy Magnussen) are let into the house by Pat. Peter informs Chris they'd like to ask him a few questions as he's been reported for 'impeding a citizen from signing the oath.' Chris demands that they leave, but they won't budge despite the lack of a warrant. A call to his lawyer finds the man on an iffy connection from the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. Peter remains calm, but Mason gets off on his authority. Violence erupts. A gun is drawn. Before the afternoon is over, murder is discussed as a serious option. The highlight of the film is Tiffany Haddish's performance, further proving her talent as a level-headed wife becoming increasingly frustrated with the husband she loves (they share a convincingly sexy, playful moment during early goings). She's the calm in the storm, but even her character is problematic, Barinholtz's intended moral compass placing motherhood before all, convictions which would ensure a better future for her child taking a backseat to something the filmmaker never bothers to articulate. There are two up close and personal experiences with country-wide tensions outside of the home, the first relatable to current events as an old white man verbally attacks a group of young people, but the second adds little, a road rage incident Chris gets caught in the middle an excuse for panic with no definable cause. The production is merely serviceable, cinematographer Cary Lalonde pulling his shots in tighter and tighter as fear mounts. Thanksgiving dinner looks delectable (in a Q&A, Barinholtz claimed to have cooked much of it). Cho and Magnussen work well playing good cop/bad cop to extremes, but Magnussen's defanged by the soft landing. "The Oath" is all too obvious, lacking any nuance to give it bite. Grade: