Review: RFK Movie Too Earnest

"Bobby," Emilio Estevez's heartfelt and soft-headed tribute to Robert F. Kennedy, is set in and around the Ambassador Hotel on June 4, 1968, the day of Kennedy's assassination. Owing a conceptual debt to both "Grand Hotel" and "Nashville," it follows 22 characters who were at the hotel that day—hotel staffers, RFK campaign workers, guests and entertainers—whose hopes and dreams and troubles are meant to encapsulate that traumatic, idealistic time.

Estevez was 4 when the candidate died (his father, Martin Sheen, was a Kennedy supporter), and his concept of the politician is unabashedly starry-eyed. Throughout the film, we get a few newsreel glimpses of RFK on the campaign trail, and at the climax we hear his voice delivering an eloquent plea against violence. The oration is stirring, a call for national healing that reminds us, in this era of divisive campaigning and an inarticulate presidency, how paltry and tongue-tied our political rhetoric has become. "Bobby," however, is only interested in looking at Kennedy through the rose-tinted lens of nostalgia. You'll find no references to the tough, ambitious, sometimes ruthless younger man who served as Roy Cohn's counsel during the McCarthy years. The figure who presides over this film has been elevated to myth: he's the great What Might Have Been. Cut down in his prime, before his rhetoric was tested by the reality of office, he's a convenient symbolic receptacle for all our liberal wet dreams.

In other words, "Bobby" isn't really about Bobby. Its politics, insofar as it has any, are elegiac and sentimental, the rueful tone set by the elegant, retired doorman played by Anthony Hopkins, who sits around the lobby playing chess with another retiree (Harry Belafonte) telling tales of the hotel's former glory days. The movie is as star-studded as Hopkins's list of bygone celebrities. Sharon Stone is the hotel's hairdresser, married to the manager (William H. Macy), a decent but weak fellow who is having an affair with telephone operator Heather Graham. Christian Slater plays a bigoted middle manager who won't allow the kitchen staff off to vote on this primary day (for which he's fired). Laurence Fishburne is the elegant, erudite chef; Freddie Rodriquez the busboy whose hopes of seeing Dodger pitcher Don Drysdale extend his shutout streak are crushed when he's forced to work a double shift. Lindsay Lohan is an idealistic girl who's marrying Elijah Wood so he won't be sent to Vietnam. Demi Moore gets the juicy role of an alcoholic singer who's going to be entertaining on this illustrious night; Estevez plays her long-suffering husband. Dad Martin Sheen is a depressive East Coast socialite married to a shallow, status- and fashion-conscious Helen Hunt. A long-haired Aston Kutcher pops up, in headband and hippie duds, as an LSD dealer who gets two of RFK's naive young volunteers (Shia LaBeouf  and Brian Geraghty) to turn on, allowing Estevez to indulge in a little retro psychedelics for comic relief. Joshua Jackson and Nick Cannon are two committed RFK staffers whose hearts will be broken that night, and … so on and so forth.

The Weinstein Company

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