Don’t give them any ideas. In “The Oath,” a blackly comic political allegory written and directed by actor Ike Barinholtz (“Suicide Squad,” TV’s “The Mindy Project”) and co-starring Tiffany Haddish (“Night School”), a right-wing U.S. government has decided to force all American adults to sign a loyalty oath, splitting friends and families apart. Chris (Barinholtz) and Kai (Haddish) are a married couple hosting Thanksgiving for their family, including Chris’ brother Pat (Jon Barinholtz, Ike’s brother) and his fellow conservative new girlfriend Abie (Meredith Hagner) and their aging parents.
If you can imagine an episode of “Life in Pieces” written and directed by George Orwell, you’d have some idea of both the virtues and vices of “The Oath.” The deadline for signing the oath is Black Friday. But government agents of the institution called the Citizen Protection Unit (CPUs) have already visited the homes and workplaces of people who have not signed. Word on the street is that Seth Rogen has been taken into detention by CPU agents.
Chris and Kai, who have a child in middle school, are dead set against signing. Pat and Abie and their parents have already signed, of course. At first, Kai makes Chris swear not to bring up politics at dinner. But the gorilla in the room eventually goes ape, and all hell breaks loose. Chris is very upset to learn that his sister Alice (Carrie Brownstein) and her flu-stricken husband, Clark (Jay Duplass), have also signed out of fear for their future. Protesters are being shot on TV. Enter CPU agents Peter (John Cho) and Mason (a scary Billy Magnussen). Can you spell hostage crisis?
Barinholtz has attempted to create a “Wag the Dog” for the Trump era, and he has in large part succeeded in making a political satire with a familial heart. No matter how estranged family members might be, when the jackboots show up to take a loved one away, all bets are off, Barinholtz seems to be saying. But a problem with “The Oath” is that it looks a lot like television on a big screen. Most of the action takes place inside a single home-set. Many of the faces are TV-screen familiar.
Produced by some of the same people who brought us “Get Out,” “The Oath” could not be more topical. But unlike “Get Out” and the more recent and sadly overlooked small-town-run-amok fable “Assassination Nation,” “The Oath” lacks the genre-movie fright factor. Perhaps if “The Oath” had been more like one of those “Purge” movies, it might have had the extra charge it needed.
(“The Oath” contains profanity, drug use and violence.)