by Dane Youssef
Emilio Esztevez's "Bobby" celebrates not only one of the greatest political icons to die before his time, before he had the opportunity to live up to even a fraction of his potential, but a seven-year effort to get it on the big screen.
Esztevez is not as renown in the business as his father and brother are. Nor does he have such a sparkling track-record. Let's be honest. Most of the man's movies (paticularly those made after "The Mighty Ducks") borderline on unwatchable. But hey, what about "Rated X"? I heard good things. Somewhere. I don't remember where exactly...
But just because a man has a few "Battlefield Earth" and "Catwoman"-like stinkers on his resume doesn't mean he's totally incapable of putting out anything at all decent. I know we love to skewer a star when they're down. But let's give a poor guy an even shake...
Because of Estevez's experience in the biz, as well as his family's, "Bobby" is chock-full of big-name walk-ons. Yes, it's good to be able to employ the best and biggest names in the business, but I don't know if it nessicarily works here. There are so many familiar faces that pop up like a Jack-In-The-Box and then disapear just as quickly, that it's kind of distracting.
They're all not on camera long enough so that we see the characters, not actors playing a role. We keep getting the feeling that all we're looking at is super-star after supers-star just here to do some temp work, have fun, do a favor and pay respect to a great political icon.
There are so many storylines buzzing in and out in such a condensed amount of time that so many of them feel under-developed (and even pointless at times).
There are some really intriguing ones, yes, but there's also too much that just feels like filler. They're not around longe enough to make us really think or care about them.
There is no accomplished actor in the plum role of Robert Kennedy (a wise desicion on Esztevez' part)--Kennedy appears as himself in archive footage; newsreels and voice-overs. There is an enourmously talented and renown cast for "Bobby," but no real head-liner.
This is an ensemble vehicle, in the tradition of the late Robert Altman's films. Like every ensemble vehicle, the star is the subject matter--RFK himself.
The lives he touched, the inpact he made, many of the goings-on during the time... that appears here. But too briefly. Like an extra that just blends into a massive crowd or a beige wall. Where are they? You want them to stand out, you want more.
As for it's much-touted heavy-hitter cast: Joshua Jackson (who worked with Esztevez in "The Mighty Ducks" films) isn't really given much of anything to do as as Kennedy's campaign manager.
Christian Slater is one of the best working actors out there today, but any schmuck standing in line at "Hot Dog On A Stick" could have done as good a job as he's allowed to do there. Hey, maybe some of that trademark reptillian-like demeanor of his might have helped. He's a racist, but he's as interesting as plain white-bread. Heather Graham is equally ineffective (has she ever given a really great performance or does she just seem to be phoning it all in, no matter what the Hell she's in?)
Ashton Kutcher thankfully sheds his tired "Kelso" scthick as a spiritual drug dealer who introduces to LSD. He wears glasses, has long mop-like hair and a scruffy beard. This is good. We're looking at the character, not Kutcher. Lately, Kutcher has been trying to evolve past the dim-witted prett-boy roles in stupid throw-away rom-comedies. He seems to be in very serious danger of becoming just another flavor-of-the-month like so, so many, many other before him (and after him). With roles in movies like "The Butterfly Effect" and now "Bobby," there may be hope for him after all.
William H. Macy and Starone Stone are some of the best out there. Here they play a married couple who have a rather ugly secret, but the whole thing is under-written. Esztevez' should have kept working on this. It's a nice sub-plot, but their story is thinner than two-ply toilet paper. And we want more.
Lawrence Fishburne almost steals the movie as a veteran cook who works at the Ambassador. He has a deep philiosophical mind and some theories on the way the world is... and how to survive in it. How to make it yours. He sounds so insightful, like an older, seasoned veteran not miles away from Kennedy himself. He talks about how anger is toxic and his admiration and love for Dr. King and how it hurt when King was gunned down.
Legendary Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins appears as the elderly doorman who won't just flat-out retire because the boredom and feeling of uselessness gets to him. His role is pretty unremarkable, although he brings the same grace and dignity he does to pretty much any role he's in. It's nice to see him away from his "Hannibal Lecter" repitore. And "Bobby" is a vast improvement over Ron Howard's putrid steaming green Christmas diarrea log, "The Grinch."
Director Esztevez and Demi Moore appear together as a couple for the first time in Esztevez' nearly unwatchable "Wisdom," which contained none of what was promised. Or anything else worth seeing. They have some worthwhile moments as a showbusiness couple, especially Moore is what's some of the better work she's done in a while. And it's one of the few sub-plots that work.
The only true stand-outs here are Lawrence Fishburne, Sharon Stone, Martin Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore. Everyone else seems is just coasting. Because they're all just distinguished veterans, we want them to make an enourmous impact. The kind where the scene and line becomes a legendary
moment and is quoted ad nauseum. But each shot just shows big-name marquee headers doing what just about anyone could have done. Maybe the fact that all these big names are dropped will draw them in.
I do applaud Esztevez for not just hiring some celebrity impressionist to play Bobby--like De Vito did for his "Hoffa." No two-bit actor can ever forge the man. So Kennedy actually appears at himself technically the whole time throughout (except of a few scenes where Bobby's right there with the actors, but we never get a good look, of course. That feels... respectful.
But does it work? The most crippling flaw in "Bobby" is that because of the contemporary faces and their underdevloped characters and underwritten scenes, we're never convinced we're back there during that fatal day. And when RFK walks through the door, onto the stage... we're never really convinced that he's in that room at this moment. RFK and the little people never seem to exist within the same time and reality.
Throughout the whole film, I was aware that they were just using old footage of Bob and the entire cast--er, members of the Ambassador were cheering facing a camera crew.
There are some moments that alone make Bobby worth seeing: A scene where a deception is going on and is revealed--we see the victim's tears and pain, a converstaion that takes place in a kitchen that really stays with you, two suited buttoned-down campaign volunteers who volunteer to embrace something more have than Kennedy, the reporter dying to see the senator in the flesh. All storylines that could have really packed a wallop if they're were written a little more. Was Esztevez on a schedule?
But there are a few too many which are just limp which leave you feeling Esztevez should have pumped them up or simply scrapped them altogether. Maybe leaving them in the bottom drawer and hauling them out the next time he wants to make a movie. As it is, this proudly stands as the best film Esztevez has come out with in over a decade. And it is a sometimes really touching tribute to a man who deseves it. For whatever reason you want to check it out, watch it, afterwards light a candle for Good ol' Bob.
In the end, what truly makes this a movie to see is the passion. The passion that Esztevez has for Bobby and has had ever since dear Emilio actually came in contact with him when he was but five years old.
"Bobby"'s finale (yes, that is the correct phrase) comes to no surprise, but what is so astonishing is how much such an act can still touch us as if we are actually there and then. It helps give the film more of an impact than everything leading up to it did.
What matters really is not when or how Kennedy left, but that he was there. Now that he's gone, it's sad how much it says about us how much we need him now...
NOTE: This review is dedicated in loving memory for Robert Francis Kennedy, the man who at the time was America's last chance after his brother and Dr. King went the same way. Despite this film's shortcomings, I still believe it succeeds as the ultimate swan song FOR BOBBY... FOR RFK... FOR ONE LAST CHANCE... FOR THIS COUNTRY...
--For Bobby Forever, Dane Youssef