"(R) Two stars
It’s ironic that the drama Bobby was released the same week famed director Robert Altman died. This film about the lives of people inside a Los Angeles hotel the day Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in 1968 is the type of project Altman would have handled with finesse.
But the writer and director of this film is actor Emilio Estevez, whose previous directing credits include Wisdom, Men at Work and The War at Home. Obviously, this project meant a lot to him and he had a lot to say. A lot.
This film features half of the Screen Actor’s Guild and each one tries to represent a human facet in 1968. A girl (Lindsay Lohan) marries a boy (Elijah Wood) so he won’t get shipped to Vietnam. Will they learn to love one another? A young black man (Nick Cannon) works his way up the Kennedy campaign. The wise, older black chef (Laurence Fishburne) speaks to the blacks, whites and Mexicans in his kitchen. There’s a racist hotel employee (Christian Slater) under the thumb of the hotel manager (William H. Macy). The manager is cheating on his wife (Sharon Stone) with a hotel operator (Heather Graham). A businessman (Martin Sheen) and his wife (Helen Hunt) shop for the right pair of shoes (no kidding). We see the boozy has-been singer (Demi Moore) and the decaying marriage to her husband (Estevez). A hippie drug-dealer (Ashton Kutcher) introduces LSD to two Kennedy campaign workers. The retired hotel doorman (Anthony Hopkins) and his chess playing best friend (Harry Belafonte) both wonder where their time has gone.
But wait, there’s more.
That’s the problem. There are way too many characters and they are stretched so thin there’s not enough time to care for them all. Granted, there are some good performances (Hopkins, Belafonte and Fishburne), but if a third to half of the characters were trimmed, this movie could have packed an emotional wallop. I understand the writer/director/actor wanted to show the universal impact of Kennedy’s death. He just didn’t need to cast half of the universe to prove his point.
Fortunately, Estevez uses film footage of Kennedy instead of hiring another actor (wise move). Even after the film’s most emotional moment (Spoiler Alert: Kennedy dies), an epic Kennedy speech is played over a drawn-out film score. What should have been a reminder of what Kennedy could have been merely feels like a long lecture.
Give Estevez credit for tackling such a huge project. Unfortunately, good intentions don’t always equal brilliant — or even good — cinema.