Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with our first test screening review of Emilio Estevez's BOBBY, the big ensemble drama surrounding the night Robert Kennedy was shot. The review below is pretty rough on the flick, but it's pretty clear that the reviewer thinks there's a solid movie that needs a bit of editing work. Matter of fact, the review almost reads like a letter to the editor. Keep in mind that this is a review of an unfinished cut and the reason the filmmakers held this screening was to get feedback like this as they're tweaking the flick. I think this flick has the potential (certainly has the cast... read below for the impressive list) to be a really strong flick. I look forward to the finished film. Enjoy the review!
I was at the "Bobby" test screening last night and I have mixed emotions. This is a small movie. It seems like it should be a big movie, with all the names, but it is still a relatively small movie. Sure, there are big stars in the movie, but most of them are past their primes and haven't been in anything of consequence in years. The reasons for making the movie are unclear. Emilio Estevez was certainly drawn to make this particular movie for a particular reason, but the version that I saw last night had me stuck between "poltical statement" and "the desire to make a character study." There are moments in the movie where things are firing on most cylinders, but never all. It is a mixed bag, and possibly is so by design, which could be a problem when it comes to trying to get this thing in shape for release.
For one, it opens very slowly. We find out a lot of information in the beginning, but most of it is simply set decoration. We find out that Freddy Rodriguez is a kitchen worker who is being forced to work a double shift today when all he wants to do is go to the Dodgers game to see Don Drysdale pitch. He is the very first character we meet and perhaps the most well-rounded in the whole movie. His scenes are the ones in the movie that I believe require the least work to get into shape, with one notable exception. There is a scene where we meet Laurence Fishburne's chef character. This is a scene so interminable and irrelevant to the movie that it nearly killed the movie dead. Basically, Fishburne talks for about a half hour about how his mother makes the best cobbler in the world and then for no particular reason, tells Rodriguez that he is the once and future king. It is a mess, and Fishburne should be excised from the final movie since he doesn't affect Rodriguez in any major way, and he doesn't change after this big scene. Also, Fishburne doesn't really interact with any other characters, so losing it all together would speed the movie up and make it less "fat."
Speaking of characters that need to be lost or at the very least trimmed down, let's talk about Heather Graham. Heather Graham plays a receptionist at the hotel, and she is having an affair with William H. Macy's hotel manager character. Graham is not very good, nor does she really have anything interesting to say in the movie. She has a long conversation with her co-worker about how they don't know each other and they should get to know one another. Really, this is not important and Graham is merely an instrument for Macy's character to get caught cheating on his wife (Sharon Stone). Graham's co-worker comes into play way later in the movie where she meets up with Nick Cannon's campaign worker character.
This is the weakest element of the movie. Nick Cannon is not very good in the movie, nor does his role amount to a whole lot. He's basically someone for Joshua Jackson to talk to. He has goals, aspirations, thoughts and feelings...but they don't really matter in the long run. And the big pay off is the end when Kennedy is shot, is Cannon screaming "THIS IS WHAT YOU GET IN WHITE AMERICA!" Completely out of place and overly political and completely takes the wind out of the sails of the end sequence which is powerful otherwise.
Another character that doesn't really pan out is Anthony Hopkins' character. He has something to do with the Ambassador hotel, but we aren't really totally clear. He could either be the owner or the old manager, but either way...he walks around for a bit and sits down for the rest of the movie to enjoy a game of chess and a drink with Harry Belafonte. Now, the idea for a scene like this playing throughout the movie is not a bad one. But, the fact that the movie is so scattershot in its attempt to interweave characters together is disadvantagous for a character like this who really doesn't mingle with other characters and is so easy to eliminate without affecting any of the interpersonal relationships in the movie.
Now lets talk for a little bit about some characters that have to stay in the movie unfortunately that need to be pared down significantly. Demi Moore plays a famous singer who happesn to be alcoholic and is playing a show in the hotel that night. Her husband is Emilio Estevez who is supportive but sad about his life. Her manager(the always good David Krumholtz) books her in a dumpy Vegas hotel in the summer, where she is all too happy to be, but Estevez is not. There are scenes where Moore is ok, but her character is given far too much to do and she doesn't really have a whole lot to do with anything. The focus is definitely on Emilio's character throughout her scenes, but because she's Demi Moore, she's given plenty of screen time. Her character would have been far more interesting if it were played by an unknown(or someone like Maria Bello who doesn't demand screen time based on her fame). There is a scene with Emilio and Demi where they are dancing and talking and its supposed to be sad and wistful about their love and life together, but it is just slow and boring and because we don't really have a whole lot invested in them, it becomes completely irrelevant. Their characters are good, the reasons for them being in the movie are I believe pure, however...they need to be trimmed down and the story should be focused internally on Emilio, who is completely a revelation in this movie. This is his best performance to date and you can tell he is having a blast.
Speaking of Demi, let's talk about Ashton Kutcher who has a "cameo" in the movie as a drug dealer who sells two Kennedy staffers some LSD and gets high with them, sending them off into a tangeantial romp through the rest of the movie. Those two characters are really well written and their story is fun and very entertaining throughout. However, the scenes with Kutcher are less than so. Firstly, he is far too present in the movie. He is not funny, he is not an interesting character as we've seen the burnt-out-stoner deal far too many times and his take on it is not original. There is a fantasy sequence that drags too long and Kutcher has a diatribe that is utter nonsense, and not in a good way. So really, just have it be a cutesy quick cameo and send our two good characters on their way.
And then there's the sticky situation of the Lindsay Lohan/Elijah Wood storyline. Lohan is marrying Wood because he is going into the army and if he is married, he will not have to go to the frontlines. Lohan's boyfriend is Wood's brother, and she is only marrying him as a favor...or is she? In the interest of remaining kind of spoiler-free, I'll say that these scenes aren't necessarily bad, they're just not that great. Lohan isn't very good, and Wood has certainly seen better days. I don't really have any suggestions of what to do with these two characters, except to maybe minimize them a little bit.
Then we have some other curious characters such as the Socialist reporter who badgers Joshua Jackson for an interview with Kennedy. We don't know why this character exists, nor do we care, and when she finally gets Jackson to agree to let her into a press conference, the payoff doesn't mean anything. She is in the movie for a grand total of 3 minutes and eliminating her character does nothing negative to the movie at all, except takes screen time away from Jackson who is really quite good.
And then there is the character of the struggling actress waitress who waits on our two stoned Kennedy staffers. She is a wonderful actress and plays her role very well, and I have no problem with her remaining in the movie even though she doesn't have a whole lot to work with. So on that note, let's move on to things I DON'T take issue with.
Christian Slater. Whenever he is on screen you can't help but smile. He's a good guy, he's likable...but in this movie, he's kind of a heavy. He's kind of racist and a bit of a dirtbag, but not a bad person overall. He has a rivalry of sorts with the whole kitchen staff which he oversees, and with Macy as his boss. I will not give away the specifics of his character's journey but it is very interesting and well done. He is the one character that I wish I saw more of.
Then, there are the scenes with Martin Sheen and Helen Hunt as husband and wife. These scenes are really well done, sure they're all nicey-nice but they work. I believe these two as a couple, I believe they're happy and I don't even care that they're not really that important in the long run. They are the perfect example of what this movie should have been trying to do all along. Just telling the stories of the people that were there. I feel that these are the scenes where Emilio established a tone and a purpose and stuck with it. Good performances from both actors and just really a good time all around.
Then there's Macy and Stone as husband and wife. Macy is the hotel manager and Stone works in hotel salon. Stone meets several characters in the movie and has conversations and dishes out advice, so her character is pretty interesting. Macy and Stone have a few brief interactions but they are good. And when the big revelation happens, things are handled very well. Good work with these two as well. Stone is only slightly affected negatively by the interminable scene with Demi Moore where they lament(and oh so topically I might add) about how they're past their prime. That scene should be shortened significantly because I like that these two interact, but what happens isn't all that interesting.
The end sequence of the movie is very powerful and well done, and it makes me think of how much more powerful it could be if the rest of the movie is tightened up to the point where we get there quicker and know these characters better and had learned about them more efficiently. The only issue I have is that incorporated into the end of the movie which plays to a Bobby Kennedy speech over images of our ensemble, is war footage, funeral footage, etc. from the time. While this is certainly related to the movie, and the story it is telling, by the time we have gone on this journey with these characters, we only want to deal with those people. The night Kennedy was shot was a terrible night for all of America to be sure. However, through the ones that were there, we are given a clearer picture of what it was like to actually be there. The movie is a microcosm for the world of the day, and I believe sticking with that idea will yield far greater results than trying to escape that particular time and place. The fact that Martin Luther King was killed is sad, yes. As is the fact that the Vietnam War was still in full swing. But this is ancilliary to the movie we just watched. Seeing these images does not do anything for the movie. In fact, I was starting to well up from the images on screen until I saw the vintage footage of these other things. I was completely taken out of the movie at that point. And maybe that's what Emilio set out to do, but it kind of made it all have less meaning to me.
Overall, I'd say the movie could turn out to be very good. I think they need to excise some characters, shorten quite a few scenes that are overwritten to begin with, tighten up a lot of the scenes and the transitions and hope for the best. I don't know if we're talking about an Oscar-worthy movie here, but I think it could turn out to be very good. I really am pulling for this movie to do well for itself as it clearly is a labor of love for Emilio Estevez who I have a great deal of respect for. You've got a bit of work ahead of you, Emilio, but there's a great movie in there...you just have to find it. I don't want to have to tell you "I expected a little more from a varsity letterman" after I see the finished version. But here's hoping...