Review: Bobby

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(Ouch! Our reviewer gives Bobby only one Black Star).

Once Crash landed the Academy Award for Best Picture, it was only a matter of time before other ensemble dramas exploring explosive social issues from a variety of perspectives would begin arriving in theaters. Bobby is one such expanded-cast production, a period piece which features 22 people whose lives partially overlap inside L.A.’s Ambassador Hotel on June 4, 1968.

The date and location are of considerable historical significance, since these events are unfolding at the site of the assassination of Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy during the hours leading up to his being shot by Palestinian terrorist Sirhan Sirhan (David Kobzantsev) in a hotel hallway.

Written and directed by Emilio Estevez, Bobby features more famous faces than any film since, well since Crash. There’s Estevez, his father, Martin Sheen, Oscar-winners Helen Hunt and Sir Anthony Hopkins, nominees Laurence Fishburne, William H. Macy, and Sharon Stone, plus other accomplished actors like Christian Slater, Lindsay Lohan, Harry Belafonte, Demi Moore, Heather Graham, Nick Cannon, Elijah Wood, Joy Bryant, Freddy Rodriguez and Shia LaBeouf, to name a few. Ala Forrest Gump, the movie takes considerable liberties with the truth, weaving in fictional characters, including all five bystanders hit by stray bullets. The real-life victims were Erwin Stroll, 17, a Kennedy campaign worker;  Paul Schrade, 43, a United Auto Workers labor leader; Ira Goldstein, 19, an employee of Continental News Service; William Weisel, 30, an associate director with ABC-TV; and Elizabeth Evans, 43, a housewife.

However, names and professions have been changed, and now we suddenly find each in the midst of some sort of personal crisis. Timmons (Slater), the Ambassador’s kitchen manager, has just been fired by his boss (Macy) for being a racist; draft dodger William (Wood) is torn about marrying Diane (Lindsay Lohan) in the hotel chapel, not for love, but in order to avoid being sent to Vietnam.

Samantha (Helen Hunt) is a superficial shrew who’s pressuring her sugar daddy hubby to buy her a pair of shoes she doesn’t really need. And Jimmy (LaBeouf) Cooper (Brian Geraghty) Kennedy staffers who decide to drop acid and goof off, in lieu of getting out the vote on the day of the critical California Primary. Because this quintet is comprised of morally-flawed individuals, the picture seems to suggest, albeit perversely, that maybe they’re getting what they deserve on some spiritual level.

Don’t forget that there are 17 additional relatively plebian plotlines to keep track of, all against the ominous air of an impending disaster. Trying a tad too hard to generate chemistry akin to the aforementioned Crash, we find Bobby focusing on the tensions which ensue at the flashpoints of the intersection of different ethnic groups. Too bad the picture doesn’t devote sufficient time to these petty controversies to enable the audience to make an emotional investment in their resolutions.

With a gifted cast crippled by his own flawed script, director Estevez serves up a series of simplistically-drawn, cardboard cut-out archetypes. It’s hard to recommend any docudrama very heartily, when its most memorable scenes are contained in archival montages culled from already familiar file footage.

On the grand scale, Bobby is a nostalgic eulogy, bemoaning a naïve nation’s loss of innocence in the aftermath of the late Sixties. Meanwhile, on a micro level, it’s more like Thornton Wilder’s literary classic, Bridge of San Luis Rey. An intimate tale about strangers oblivious to their imminent rendezvous with destiny and with RFK at the fateful moment when Sirhan decides to strike.

Fair (1 Black Star).  Rated R for profanity, ethnic slurs, violence, and drug use.
Running time: 119 minutes.  Studio: The Weinstein Company

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