One of the advantages of enjoying as long a run as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is the series can now revisit past plots with abandon.
That’s what it does with the season’s second episode, “Thunder Gun 4: Maximum Cool.” The storyline tackles the subject of “Hollywood wokeness” — and reaches a surprising conclusion.
Premise: The Gang is participating in a focus group for an upcoming movie. They’ve been “carefully selected” with the promise of Red Lobster gift cards. Charlie, in Charlie-like fashion, believe the film is titled Focus Group, and Dennis offers the screening moderator (Jessy Hodges) a role in one of his own (presumably pornographic) movies.
Eventually, they’re thrilled to discover the movie they’ll be critiquing is Thunder Gun 4: Maximum Cool.
That would be the sequel to Thunder Gun Express, the movie from Season 7 — aka the Fat Mac season — that led to various misadventures on the way to the theater. Aired in December 2011, the ep included an (off-camera) visit to Philadelphia by then-President Barack Obama, and Frank getting arrested for hijacking a boat on the Schuylkill.
In 2019, The Gang’s reaction to the new Thunder Gun is less than positive. Gathered in a conference room, they lay out their objections, as we see the relevant scenes from the film, which bear more than a passing resemblance to latter-day Rambo sequels.
In the first segment, “John Thundergun” (played by the only logical actor, Dolph Lundgren) is introduced drinking alone in a bar, when he’s approached by a couple of young scientists who need him to battle his longtime nemesis, “Col. Washington.”
Frank and Mac object because they’re confused that the good guy and bad guy aren’t wearing different colors or, uh, are different colors. Frank even runds down the Rocky series, although he stops before he gets to Rocky IV (which starred Lundgren).
In contrast with prevailing attitudes in moviemaking right now, the entire Gang objects to the strong woman protagonist, Dr. Ling (Emily C. Chang).
Says Sweet Dee: “I feel bad enough about myself as is, I don’t need some super hot funny smart chick doing, like, roundhouse kicks and cracking computer codes to make me feel worse.”
Then we get dick jokes. The Gang brings up a question: Why doesn’t Thundergun, in the new movie, “hang dong”? (Hey, if Game of Thrones can do it…) When the moderator says the studio was hoping to get away from “gratuitous nudity,” Charlie lets out a rare-for-FXX, uncensored F-bomb.
While it’s hard to imagine any real-life action franchise featuring full-frontal male nudity on the part of the star, Mac and Dennis declare that the lack of “dong” is just another example of Hollywood being PC and out of touch.
Then, the studio rep drops the most shocking bombshell of all: That the new Thunder Gun is rated PG-13.
Dennis demands “equality,” saying “it’s no longer just about gratuitous boobs — it’s also about gratuitous penis.” He points out that it’s now liberals, instead of conservatives, policing sexuality in American culture.
The screening moderator claps back, noting that it’s not a political concern so much as an economic one. The real reason for the lack of “dong,” she says, isn’t political correctness, but rather that R-rated movies are underperforming at the box office.
After she eventually gets fed up and shuts down the focus group, the Gang gets their revenge, uploading Frank’s videotaped version of the movie to a piracy site and scuttling the movie’s release.
What the episode lacks in laugh-out-loud jokes, it makes up for by poking fun at of those objecting to new standards of political correctness and wokeness “ruining” the movies, comedy or other entertainment. And unlike South Park and some other places, Sunny seems to realize how absurd that attitude is — especially since the characters tell themselves they’re heroes for doing so.
– “Thunder Gun 4: Maximum Cool” was written by Conor Galvin and directed by Heath Cullens.
– The episode title (and movie) are spelled “Thunder Gun,” but the character’s last name is “Thundergun.”
– Not a lot of local flavor this week, although when the focus group moderator is called a “Hollywood communist,” she replies, “I’m from Roxborough.” And at one point, Dennis says they’re “30 minutes” and “across town” from the nearest movie theater. But we know that the fictitious version of Paddy’s is supposed to be at 2nd and Dickinson, which is just a five-minute walk, under I-95, to the UA Riverview Plaza.
– The Gang’s movie piracy websites of choice: MoviePirate.com, FreeMovies/Arrrrgh, and Stolenmovies.free.
– In the last line of the episode, Mac says “put on the Auto Motion Plus.” That’s the Samsung-specific version of the cursed TV mode known as “motion smoothing” or “soap opera effect,” which is the bane of the existence of serious cinephiles
– Mac, throughout the episode, is wearing a shirt from the G5 brew pub, which is not local but is rather based in Severance, CO. That bar is planning a watch party on Oct. 6.
– I’ve been a film critic and culture writer in this city for nearly 15 years, and I’ve never once heard of a full-length movie focus group being held in Philadelphia.
– Next week: “Dee Day,” in which (per cable listings) “Dee informs the guys that it is ‘Dee Day,’ and they have to do everything she wants.”