After completing his starring role in the “Mighty Ducks” trilogy, Emilio Estevez set his sights a little higher and began to work on a film about the day Bobby Kennedy was shot. Perhaps to make up for seven long years of writing and several more of production, “Bobby” aims to accomplish more in two hours than any other movie this year.
This ambition proves to be the principal flaw of what was supposed to be Estevez’s crowning achievement. The cast includes over 20 faces you will recognize, but few are known more for their talent than their tabloid appearances. Estevez, who wrote and directed the film, also tries to weave together over 10 different plots — each of which covers a topic broad enough to be the entire focus of a movie by itself. By trying to pack in 10 times the celebrity and plot of a normal movie, “Bobby” ends up with about one-tenth of the impact.
By opening the movie with documentary shots showing the chaos of 1968, Estevez situates his movie in a principally historical context. “Bobby” follows the occupants of L.A.’s Ambassador Hotel on June 4, 1968, the day of Kennedy’s victory in the California presidential primary, visit to the hotel and subsequent assassination. The movie sets out to provide a snapshot of 1968 and suggests that, had Kennedy lived, the problems of that time would have been solved. But the film covers issues that are either banal — the perception of marriage, political disenfranchisement — or have been investigated much more thoughtfully in other films — growing old, infidelity — and hardly seem unique to the era. When the movie ends with a Kennedy voice-over promising to eradicate social issues, the connection to the characters is tenuous at best because the issues examined seem so loosely tied to the time period.
Perhaps the film could have benefited from a co-writer or director, who might have served as a filter for some of the more apparent flaws. Estevez’s script has more cliches than a graduation speech and some of the worst writing ever to appear in a movie with Oscar aspirations. Lindsay Lohan (who, despite her party-girl reputation, shows some real acting chops) and Elijah Wood speak like Hallmark cards in their attempts to portray two friends who are getting married to avoid the draft. And keep an eye out for Helen Hunt’s opening line about shoes and Laurence Fishburne’s speech about kings, as they are two of the worst ever to appear on film. Given that Estevez spent seven years writing the script while battling writer’s block (it’s debatable whether he has recovered), one would think someone could have come up with better lines.
Somewhere in between Nick Cannon’s, Joshua Jackson’s and Heather Graham’s appearances on screen, it’s hard not to wonder how the movie was cast. While the familiar faces made the jumbled plots easier to sort out, it becomes a distraction — especially since most of the actors aren’t very good, despite the name recognition. In addition to Cannon, Graham, Jackson, Lohan, Wood, Hunt and Fishburne, the cast list boasts Estevez himself (although his acting is better suited to the “Mighty Ducks” series), Anthony Hopkins, Ashton Kutcher, Shia LaBeouf, William H. Macy, Demi Moore, Martin Sheen, Christian Slater, Sharon Stone and the nerdy guy from “Numb3rs.”
Despite its generally scattershot casting, a few of the big-name actors shine even in their limited screen time. Moore could have carried the entire movie if she had been given the chance, as could have Stone as a depressed but hopeful hairdresser. Freddy Rodriguez and Jacob Vargas, token Mexican immigrants imaginatively named Jose and Miguel, have great chemistry in their scenes together. And, cleverly avoiding having to cast someone to play the title character, Estevez artfully integrates real footage from 1968 with shots of the actors in the final, powerful scene.
Fond of quoting the senator in his script, Estevez must be familiar with Bobby’s famous quote, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” Well, Estevez has now failed greatly. And given his artful directorship and grand aspirations (and with a great script and a more manageable cast), Emilio’s future films may surprise even those traumatized by the mess that is “Bobby.”
Dir: Emilio Estevez