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5 reviews, 14 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Assassin And The Cobbler"
2 stars

Emilio Estevez’s “Bobby” may be the most sincere and well-intentioned American film of the year and is only one of the many problems with it. It is clear that he deeply admires the late Robert F. Kennedy and mourns the loss of what might have been for our country had he not been gunned down in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on the very evening that his bid for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination was boosted with a decisive win in the California primary. These are fine sentiments to have and I can understand how someone having them would want to transform them into a film that would remind older viewers of the ideals he represented while explaining who he was and what he represented to members of the iPod generation. Instead of giving us that movie, though, Estevez has instead presented viewers with a bizarre multi-story soap opera that tries to be a modern-day “Grand Hotel” but turns out more like a cheesy 1970's disaster movie in which we have to wade through an all-star cast marking time through numerous uninteresting subplots in order to get to the climactic carnage.

Set within the confines of the Ambassador on that fateful day of June 6, 1968, “Bobby” offers us glimpses into the lives of a number of people going about their daily lives not realizing what fate had in store for them that evening. William H. Macy is the hotel manager who is unhappily married to beauty parlor manager Sharon Stone. Heather Graham is the sexy switchboard operator that he is having an affair with, much to the consternation of co-worker Joy Bryant. Anthony Hopkins is the avuncular doorman who sits around in the lobby with friend Harry Belafonte while reminiscing about the good old days. Demi Moore plays the drunken nightclub singer who treats husband/manager Estevez and agent David Krumholtz with sodden disdain. Freddy Rodriguez is the Hispanic kitchen worker who has tickets for an important Dodgers game (in which Don Drysdale is going for the record for most consecutive shut-outs) only to learn that he has been given a double-shift and can’t go. Laurence Fishburne is the chef who knows that the best way to quell simmering racial tensions between the blacks and Latinos in the kitchen is with a piece of cobbler. Christian Slater is the racist food & beverage manager who gets fired by Macy for his behavior, only to discover that he has been canoodling with Graham.

As for the guests, Lindsay Lohan is a benevolent young lass who has arrived to marry future soldier Elijah Wood in the hopes that his hitch will be in the relatively safe Germany instead of the jungles of Vietnam. Helen Hunt plays a woman who is vaguely dissatisfied with her life and Martin Sheen is her loving and somewhat uncomprehending husband. Joshua Jackson is the harried campaign manager trying to marshal the troops to get out the vote and Nick Cannon is his assistant, a young firebrand who sees Kennedy as the only hope for black people in America. Brian Geraghty and Shia LaBeouf play a couple of campaign volunteers who have inexplicably chosen this day to take their first hits of acid, supplied by hippie drug dealer Ashton Kutcher, and need to be talked down by waitress/aspiring actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Finally, Svetlana Metkina is a Czech journalist who has camped out in the lobby in an effort to score an interview with Kennedy for her socialist newspaper.

Having read all of that, I am sure that many of you may be wondering what exactly any of these particular plot strands have to do with either Robert Kennedy’s life or death. The answer is simple–they don’t. Most of them, in fact, are so wrapped up in their own personal little melodramas that they don’t even seem to be aware of what is going on outside the hotel, let alone demonstrate any feelings regarding Kennedy and the values that he represents. And since the film ends with the assassination, we don’t get to see how the assassination affected their lives on a personal level. Instead, we are bounced around from one soapish scene to the next and the only drama that Estevez generates from the material comes from those of us in the audience wondering if he is actually going to try to get all of these people into the ballroom and kitchen for the climax and, if so, how awkward of a sight it will be when he does. (The answers are “For the most part, yes” and “For the most part, incredibly awkward.”)

Even if “Bobby” were more politically astute than it is, you would still have the unavoidable problem that this is a film whose reach far exceeds its grasp. In order to pull off this kind of sprawling narrative, a filmmaker needs to have both the crazy ambition to try such a thing and the technical skill to pull it off. Take a film like Robert Altman’s “Nashville”–like “Bobby,” it contains multiple story arcs involving a large cast of characters that slowly and inexorably leads to a climax at a political rally that turns into a bloodbath. That movie worked–indeed, it could be argued that it is the masterwork from one of the great American directors–because of the way that Altman juggled the political and personal while still finding the time to give us a gallery of compelling and fully-drawn characters Estevez, on the other hand, has the ambition in spades but as a filmmaker (whose previous efforts have been smaller-scale tales like “Men At Work,” “The War At Home” and “Rated X”), he just doesn’t have the chops for a project of this size and scope. None of the storylines are especially compelling on an individual level and all they do is wind up smashing into each other instead of blending together into a cohesive whole. Everything is staged in a flat-footed manner (even the LSD flashbacks show remarkably little imagination) and Estevez’s idea of cleverness is to have a couple of the characters in his “Grand Hotel”-like film inexplicably begin to discuss the glories of “Grand Hotel.”

As for the characters, Estevez spends so much time introducing the members of his cast that by the time roll call is finished, there is hardly anytime left to develop them beyond such thumbnail descriptions as Drunken Singer, Idealistic Campaign Worker or Benevolent Skank. Perhaps Estevez was inspired to go the all-star route because of the similar approach used by Oliver Stone’s “JFK.” The difference is that in the case of Stone, he was cleverly typecasting actors who represented a certain type of persona (Jack Lemmon as the nervous guy who finally tries to do the right thing, Walter Matthau as the garrulous cynic, Joe Pesci as the sleazy hood whose mouth gets him into situations that he cannot extricate himself from and Kevin Bacon as the kind of guy who can switch from charming to creepy in a heartbeat) as a form of shorthand for the viewer to aid them in making their way through the labyrinth plot. Estevez is more like a party host who is great at inviting people to a shindig and making them comfortable but who has no idea of what to do once everyone is settled into their seats.

You keep waiting for something to spark as all these stars begin to align with each other but nothing ever does–even something as seemingly sure-fire as the scene between Stone and Moore (a Clash of The 90's Divas if ever there was one) winds up piddling away into irrelevance. Some of the veteran performers–such as Belafonte, Hopkins, Fishburne and Macy–keep their heads above water by sheer professionalism alone while others never come close to getting a hold of their characters. (Helen Hunt seems as lost and unsure of who she is supposed to be playing as we are.) Oddly enough, in a film jammed with big-name stars rubbing elbows, the one who winds up sticking out like a sore thumb is relative newcomer Svetlana Mekina as the Czech journalist–her work is so formless and uninspired that whenever she comes on screen, you find yourself wondering why Estevez cast her in the role instead of some better-known actress of Eastern European extraction. (If you then go home to look her up on IMDb, you will discover that she is married to one of the film’s producers and realize that the more some things change in Hollywood, the more other things stay the same.)

The biggest mistake in “Bobby,” a film chock-full of them (I see I neglected to mention the bit in which a drug-addled Ashton Kutcher matches wits with an orange and at best comes up with a draw), comes at the very end when Estevez juxtaposes images of his cast either bleeding profusely or stumbling about in a post-assassination daze as we hear Robert Kennedy himself delivering a speech about how the madness of indiscriminate violence threatens to tear our society apart. The problem is not the questionable taste or the thudding literalness of such a scene but the fact that Kennedy’s words remain so powerful and timely today, nearly four decades after he uttered them. These words effortlessly conjure the kind of deep-seated emotions that “Bobby” tries so desperately to inspire in viewers and all they do is remind us just how far Estevez has missed the mark.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15002&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/22/06 00:10:05
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/02/09 Jeff Wilder Not as bas as some critics thought. Not that great either though. 3 stars
3/22/09 Dane Youssef An unbelievable cast of the finest talent. An important subject. But a disapointing movie. 3 stars
6/10/08 mr.mike Nice try is saddled with uninteresting characters. 3 stars
7/22/07 whatever the film was a beautiful and touching picture 4 stars
2/18/07 dmitry So earnest that its hard not be won over 3 stars
2/05/07 William Goss Mediocre ensemble drama improves at end thanks to great speech, not great filmmaking. 3 stars
1/15/07 malcolm sharon stone, helen hunt, demi moore starting to look old 4 stars
1/01/07 Mike Guagliardo movie lets younger people why he is missed and needed 4 stars
12/06/06 Gabriel Canada I have heard the speech form the begining of the film, it is almost sacred. 4 stars
12/05/06 Robert Filmore Surprisingly good movie, given the reviews I've looked at to date. The criticism that he vi 4 stars
12/04/06 Dan Jordan Powerful, made me long for leadership again.. 4 stars
11/27/06 fifthbiz A not so "Grand Hotel" with a helluva ending 3 stars
11/25/06 Michele Mccann Broke my heart all over again. 4 stars
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  DVD: 10-Apr-2007



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