Bobby (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

In the movie business, there's no such thing as "truth in titling." If there was, Bobby would be called A Bunch of Boring, No-Name, Cookie-Cutter Characters. Although that lacks the brevity and appeal of the real title, it's more illustrative of the film's content. There's another thing to consider as well when wondering about whether to see Bobby: the track record of the director. While it's not impossible for someone with a dubious filmography to craft an unanticipated masterpiece, a healthy bit of skepticism is warranted based on Emilio Estevez's resume as a director (Wisdom, Men at Work), which doesn't inspire confidence. Sadly, even with low expectations, Bobby disappoints.

June 4, 1968 was the best of times and the worst of times for 42-year old Bobby Kennedy. This was the day when the New York Senator captured the California Democratic primary and appeared to be on the fast track to facing off against Richard Nixon in the November election (a contest he would likely have won). It's also the day when Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year old Palestinian, shot him. He died 26 hours later, ending considerations of a second Camelot and bringing into existence mumblings of a so-called "Kennedy Curse."

Bobby is the story of myriad fictional characters in and around Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel (RFK's campaign headquarters and the place where he was shot) during the fateful day. Kennedy, as it turns out, is only a secondary character in the movie - not important enough for an actor to portray him (archival footage of the real RFK is used). His death, coupled with a stirring voiceover, provides a poignant ending, but its resonance is limited because Kennedy is an icon in Bobby, not a character.

In terms of structure and quality of writing, the movie feels like an Irwin Allen film or an episode of The Love Boat. There are about ten subplots featuring recognizable actors. These "guest stars" interact with each other in largely perfunctory ways, passing time until we get to the big climax. The mini-stories are not compelling - none has enough time to build a head of steam, and none of the characters experience noticeable development. The unrelenting tedium of spending 90 minutes with these individuals is broken only when RFK takes the podium to declare victory.

Watching Bobby is a lot like playing "spot a star." Anthony Hopkins is a former doorman who haunts the Ambassador looking forward to his regular chess game with Harry Belafonte. Demi Moore is a drunk singer whose marriage to Emilio Estevez is on the rocks. Manacurist Sharon Stone is married to hotel manager William H. Macy, who is having an affair with switchboard operator Heather Graham. Macy has just fired underling Christian Slater for anti-Hispanic attitudes. Helen Hunt, the wife of Martin Sheen, goes shopping because she left her black shoes at home. Lindsay Lohan is getting married to childhood friend Elijah Wood to keep him from being posted to Vietnam. Ashton Kutcher is a dope dealer who introduces a couple of Kennedy campaign workers to LSD. Freddy Rodriguez, a Dodgers fan anticipating Don Drysdale's sixth consecutive shutout, is annoyed that he has to work a double-shift as a dishwasher and can't go to the game. Laurence Fishburne, the Ambassador's chef, buys the tickets from him.

The film is filled to overflowing with these inconsequential stories, causing Bobby to drag for what seems like a lot longer than its 112-minute running time. The ending, in which everything is supposed to come together in a tragic hail of gunfire, has minimal emotional impact even though seemingly one-third of the big-name stars get plugged along with the presidential candidate. In the end, the only one we care about having been shot is Kennedy. No one else matters.

It's not hard to understand how Estevez could attract this kind of high-profile cast. He and his family are among the liberal elite in Hollywood, and the subject matter is enough to entice anyone who believes that the sorry state of today's government can be traced to the shots fired by Sirhan Sirhan that night. The resulting finished project is a series of skits performed by famous people doing favors for a friend, and it works about as well as one might expect from such an endeavor. High-profile killings can provide fertile material for motion pictures, whether they're fact-based accounts or include wild speculation. In this case, however, the fertilizer is spread improperly, resulting in a ponderous motion picture that evidences no growth and smells like shit.

Bobby (United States, 2006)

Run Time: 1:52
U.S. Release Date: 2006-11-17
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Violence, Sexual Situations, Drugs)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1