No matter how tender the turkey or fluffy the mashed potatoes, Thanksgiving dinner is probably not going very well if there is a government official unconscious in the living room with spinal fluid draining from his ears. Nevertheless, grab a fork (or other sharp utensil) and pull up a chair for The Oath, a savagely funny dark comedy where participating in the political rancor is the only way to survive through dessert.
Making his directorial debut — and also penning the script and starring in the lead role — is Ike Barinholtz (TV’s The Mindy Project), who was seen earlier this year in Blockers helping John Cena chug beer through his butt (known to Brett Kavanaugh as “boofing”). In The Oath, Barinholtz plays Chris, an aggravated liberal husband and father who, along with his wife Kai (Tiffany Haddish), decide to host Thanksgiving at their home.
It’s not the best idea for the family to get together, however, since tension is at a boiling point because of the endorsement of “The Patriot Oath,” a state-sponsored loyalty pledge the government is asking every American to voluntarily sign by the deadline on Black Friday. Offended by the dystopian concept, Chris is committed to fighting the system and not sign. His conservative brother Patrick (Jon Barinholtz, Ike’s real-life younger sibling) and his smug girlfriend Abbie (Maredith Hagner) are more than happy to tell Chris they took the Oath months ago.
The heated exchanges between family members about their political beliefs on every divisive subject they can think of blazes into a dumpster fire when two employees of the Citizens Protection Unit, a new division of Homeland Security, pay Chris and Kai’s household a visit to ask Chris some questions about the Oath. Before anyone knows what’s happening, Chris and his family are forced to subdue the two men (John Cho and Billy Magnussen), when one of them becomes aggressive.
At this point in The Oath, the sardonic and witty tone — reminiscent of the 1995 political satire The Last Supper — takes a sudden turn and abandons the even-handed approach it started with. It becomes a more mean-spirited narrative that favors predictable violence over explaining why people on opposite sides of the aisle want to wring each other’s necks sometimes.
Barinholtz might lose focus during the second half of the movie, but the film lands a good amount of solid gut punches before flying off the rails. By then, however, The Oath has reminded audiences that regardless of where their political allegiances lie, it’s probably a good idea to stuff their face with green bean casserole this holiday season, so nothing too stupid comes out of their mouth.