I teach 18-year-old college freshmen how to write research papers and persuasive speeches. Every one of them is better at these things than convicted felon Dinesh D'Souza, a grown-ass man whose job is political analysis. His third film, Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party, is founded on the most specious line of historical reasoning that I could come up with even if I was trying to deliberately parody D'Souza's utterly bizarre mixture of charmingly uncharismatic professor and raving paranoiac street preacher. In a nutshell, because Andrew Jackson rounded up the Cherokee people and sent them to a reservation in Oklahoma, Hillary Clinton has been using her training from Saul Alinsky to craft a plot to keep 21st Century black people living in crushing poverty. I cannot possibly make it clear enough that I am not in any significant way misrepresenting the argument being made by the convicted felon and sometime filmmaker, even for the purposes of a joke.

The film is the third in what will hopefully remain only a trilogy of documentary-shaped objects in which D'Souza explains in blandly alarmist tones what horrible fucking things will happen if Americans don't as a nation, soundly repudiate the Democratic Party: 2016: Obama's America, which attempted to do for the 2012 elections what Hillary's America wants to do in 2016; and America: Imagine the World Without Her, which maybe was trying to influence the 2014 midterms, but was mostly about how Barack Obama wants to rewrite history to make the United States the great villain of history, or whatever. Mostly, all three films permit the convicted felon to chase whatever rabbits cross his mind, typically not involving the notional subject at all. In Hillary's America, Hillary Clinton herself doesn't meaningfully show up until 75 minutes into a 106-minute feature (Donald Trump is mentioned in but a solitary line on a radio), by which point D'Souza and co-director (but not, that I can tell, a convicted felon) Bruce Schooley have spent all their time minutely re-creating the history of the Democratic Party between the 1820s and Reconstruction, skipping ahead to briefly peer with confusion at the Civil Rights Act, and not, as far as I can recall, even mentioning the name "Franklin Delano Roosevelt" or the phrase "New Deal". This latter is important because Hillary's America is concerned first and above all with the continuity between the Democrats of 1840 and the Democrats of 2016, and nothing of importance happened in the intervening century and three-quarters to change the attitudes of the party and its leaders. No-one with a shred of intellectual decency could make that argument under any circumstances, but ignoring the seismic re-alignment of values triggered by the New Deal coalition at least makes it possible to pretend for a few minutes at a time.

The shabby intellectual poverty of D'Souza's argument is bad enough (though I suppose credit is due that he supposes racism to be a bad thing & worthy of pinning on his political enemies), but the problem here as in his earlier work that the pundit/convicted felon and his collaborators are terrible filmmakers. Indeed, Hillary's America is garbage cinema even beneath the already shockingly low bar that Obama's America set four years ago. The narrative structure is an investigation into the ideology of the Democrats, a people that D'Souza talks about as though he'd heard some offhand reference to them years ago but only cares to learn more about their curious ways. And where did he come up with the time to launch this investigation? Why, during his time in prison, of course! For convicted felon D'Souza does, in fact, make a great goddamn big huge deal about the fact that he is a convicted felon, which is why I don't feel even a teeny-tiny bit bad about bringing it up. It was in prison, so he says, where he first met representative Democrats, learning with horror about how gang members and drug dealers and other assorted toughs rely on the corruption put into place by those evil, evil liberal progressives to provide cover as they ply their wicked trade.

It's hilarious. Starting with a re-enactment of his own trial, D'Souza proceeds to depict in great detail his time in the slammer, apparently concluding that when life deals you conviction lemons, you might as well make political martyr lemonade. At least, a version of that time, in which the pundit, convicted for violating campaign finance regulations, is the solitary non-violent criminal in jail. Hillary's America, paean to right-wing anti-racism that it is, presents a vision of prison life so utterly terrified of the race and class make-up of prisoners, and so deeply clichéd in its presentation of them, that you could swap it into a '30s or '40s moral panic movie without anybody noticing. In prison, there are burly men. Some of them are not-white. Many of them want butt sex. It's overwrought to point of unabashed camp, and made even better by D'Souza's spectacularly unconvincing screen presence as himself, looking mildly perturbed at his fate at worst, but more often just sleepy, while frequently turning to the camera with a patient, expecting expression as he intones steaming hot dialogue like "What if their plan was to steal... ... ... America?!?"

The prison scenes, owing to D'Souza's black hole of charmlessness, are the film's highlight as a magnificently terrible piece of shit, but it offers up plenty of joys in its endless litany of historical re-enactments. Moving from Don Taylor's passable Abraham Lincoln to Howard Goldthwaite's shockingly bad melodramatic villain of an Andrew Jackson to Andrea Cohen's posh twit of a Margaret Sanger who more closely resembles Margaret Dumont, the film is chock full of visibly confused actors barking out D'Souza and Schooley's completely impossible dialogue (Alesia Gidget Taylor, as Ida B. Wells, is saddled with the most bombastic, undeliverable declamations), while meandering around in oddly convincing costumes on oddly convincing sets. Whatever else Hillary's America gets spectacularly wrong, at least it has good production values. The scene where The Birth of a Nation literally jumps off the screen at President Woodrow Wilson (William Arthur Jenkins) is a particularly snazzy, particularly unnecessary highlight

Anyway, it feels like community theater kids suddenly thrust into a movie without preparation, or even the desire to be there (Goldthwaite is the only actor who seems to be enjoying himself). Coupled with the generally slapdash filmmaking, in which horror movie editing and D'Souza's dry recitation create absolutely no consistent tone or point of view, the resulting film feels desperately low-rent and amateurish, independent of the shoddily written, argued, and conceived arguments underpinning all of it. By the time that D'Souza uses clips from the film version of Evita to make his dramatic claims about the Clinton Foundation's financial misconduct, his film has settled into a nice pattern between embarrassing incompetence and joyful badness. It's hard to conceive of how the film could make its argument any worse if D'Souza was deliberately attempting to overthrow the Republican Party from within.