December, 2006, Drama

Emilio Estevez, (“brat pack” star of teen-themed movies like The Outsiders, Breakfast Club & St. Elmo’s Fire and the son of West Wing’s Martin Sheen) had barely reached his sixth birthday when Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated in the cavernous kitchen of L.A.’s Ambassador Hotel on the night he won the Democratic Party’s Presidential Primary in June of 1968.  Yet that tragic event obviously fascinates this sometime writer/director, as this elegiac paean to the late senator demonstrates.

 With the help of a large cast of instantly-recognizable Hollywood faces, (Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, Harry Belafonte, Christian Slater, Demy Moore etc) and a script of often bewildering irrelevance, Estevez tries unsuccessfully to convey the impact Kennedy’s death had on those around him during that fatal night when victory turned so quickly into violence. Working from his own script, (and playing the role of  foppish errand-boy husband to Demi Moore’s boozy lounge singer) Estevez’s storyline rambles from kitchen help to hotel guests to campaign staff in a vain attempt to put a human face on the assassination. They’re all here - - the lonely widower, the cheerful Hispanic busboy, the hippie drug dealer, the beautiful but brittle executive wife, the uptight philandering hotel manager, the idealistic African American political volunteer - - but while Estevez clearly wants to present a tragic variation on Ship of Fools or The Bridge Luis Rey, he delivers instead a morose version of television’s Love Boat.

It’s not that his cast doesn’t make the best of what it’s been given in the script; Sharon Stone offers a telling portrait of a hotel hairdresser quietly determined to understand the good qualities of her unfaithful husband, gossip-column favorite Lindsay Lohan provides a sweetly innocent young woman who’s marrying a classmate to save him from being shipped to Vietnam, Christian Slater shines as a disaffected middle manager unaware of his own bigotry and Shia LeBeouf’s antics as a first-time acid-dropper convey the guileless mania that made up much of “turn on, tune in, drip out” ethos of the sixties. But the auteur of this film simply cannot find the right words to convey the sense of numbing paralysis which gripped America in those tumultuous years; civil rights turmoil, the deaths of President Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, the protracted war in Vietnam and the often brutally-repressed demonstrations that accompanied it…to those old enough to remember that era, it seemed as though America was careening off its axis towards chaos and while Estevez’s ambition to present that societal disintegration may be laudable, his movie grows evermore mawkish rather than authentically heartfelt, ultimately becoming emotionally simplistic rather than compellingly profound.    

The real tragedy of Kennedy’s death lies in the fact that the world was forever denied the opportunity of knowing whether the lofty aspirations expressed in his campaign speeches, (quoted liberally here in the late senator’s own clipped Bostonian tones and accompanied by extensive archival footage of his appearances on the campaign trail) could have blossomed into leadership that might have brought a quicker end to the war, a more rapid decline in racism, a reduction in the factionalism that still grips American politics. If it was Estevez’s intention to convey that message, he failed. 

The Verdict? Give him an A for lofty intentions, but an F for delivery.      

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