Anyone looking for this year’s Crash will find it in Emilio Estevez’s Bobby, a reimagining of the day in which Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination at the Ambassador Hotel on June 4, 1968 struck a major blow to future-seeking Democrats and liberals the nation over. A dry take on an
Oliver Stone panorama by way of The Love Boat, it shares several attributes with Paul Haggis’s race drama of last year: starry cast peppered with A-, B-, and C-listers all putting on brave faces, gut-churningly awful exposition that reeks more of screenwriting software than actual human utterances, and the purport of “importance”—you know, the kind of movie where everyone feels like a better American after having seen it. And it’s also going to be the type of film this season where certain people’s ulcers flare up at the very mention of it, while others try, try, try to convince them of its worth.
The movie has no real story to speak of, just a series of barely connected vignettes over the 24-hour period before RFK’s demise, only some of which have anything to do with the ever-changing political climate of the 1960s. Among our contestants, err, performers in the Ambassador Hotel Sweepstakes are its manager (William H. Macy), who’s married to a mod hairdresser (Sharon Stone) but secretly screwing a building phone gal (Heather Graham), his food and beverage supervisor (Christian Slater), who callously dismisses his mostly black and Latino staff in the kitchen, one of which (Freddy Rodríguez) is a bright-eyed baseball fan whose aw-shucks demeanor wouldn’t be out of place on Leave it to Beaver. Guests at the hotel include boozy chanteuse Virginia Fallon (Razzie-worthy Demi Moore) and husband Tim (Estevez himself), who’s fed up with her diva bullshit, a young lass (Lindsay Lohan) who marries a good friend (Elijah Wood) to spare him from the draft, and a couple that mostly stays in discussing ladies’ shoes and relationships (Martin Sheen and Helen Hunt). And there’s the two geezers (Harry Belafonte and Anthony Hopkins) who play chess in the main lobby and talk of the days of old. Basically, all mark time until the final scenes, when Sirhan Sirhan (whose face we don’t even really get to see, per Estevez’s genius idea to keep him as vague as possible) unloads in the hotel kitchen, and we wonder who will get plugged with lead in the end.
This is not Estevez’s first politically-fused effort, for that you have to go back to the hilariously overwrought 1996 fiasco The War at Home, where he directed himself as a conflicted Vietnam vet (try not to belly laugh when hearing the soft-voiced Estevez constantly bellow the word “gooks”). But every film he’s made is terrible (including Wisdom, Men at Work, and Rated X), and even with some very capable actors, he still cannot drag any movie out of the mud. The best of Bobby’s lot is Slater, who by default has the most interesting character as the casually racist F&B guy, but the film, of course, has to try to justify his every move. Heaven forbid someone had more than one definable trait. Stone does her usual spurned and serious act, and her big scene with Moore is bungled because of the latter’s inability to act one iota; Laurence Fishburne dispels black wisdom over fruit cobbler (which surprisingly none of the cast barfs up given the obnoxious dialogue he has to deliver); and Hopkins continues his streak of outrageously lazy performances in what could have been a sensitively rendered supporting character. But the real low point is Ashton Kutcher’s hippie dealer, and the two volunteer dipshits (Shia LaBeouf and Brian Geraghty) who take LSD and open their minds, man. All scored to, yup, Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” which I thought everyone in Hollywood, Earth, or the solar system knew was well past a cliché to use during these sorts of scenes.
But then again, Estevez leaves no other cliché unturned, so it’s hard to imagine him embracing originality. And when he runs out of those, he tacks on a very lengthy end sequence of a famous RFK speech, which encapsulates everything the movie desperately has been trying to say throughout its previous 100-odd minutes. At that rate, why not just show a blank screen with audiotape? After enduring this wretched twaddle, you’ll be praying for that blank screen, the same one that seemingly resides in the writer-director’s head.
There’s evidence of edge haloes in spots and many of the film’s images are noticeably (perhaps deliberately) soft. Otherwise, the transfer is a thing of great beauty, with succulently saturated colors, great contrast and shadow delineation, and very sharp whites. The audio is full-bodied: Though the film is dialogue-driven, the score casts an expansive spell across the entire soundstage.
"Bobby: The Making of An American Epic" begins as a puff piece, with the film’s actors congratulating each other’s talents and Emilio Estevez recalling how he doesn’t remember shaking Bobby Kennedy’s hand when the actor-director was five years old, but the featurette deepens as everyone begins to discus Kennedy’s effect on people’s lives. Also clocking in at 30 minutes is a panel discussion with a bunch of people, from reporters to political advisors, who were at the Ambassador Hotel the night that Kennedy was shot and killed. Rounding out the disc is a theatrical trailer and previews of Breaking and Entering, Factory Girl, Miss Potter, and Shut Up and Sing.
Bobby is not better than JFK but it is not completely without value.