The star-studded dud Bobby—about the lives of fictional folk in the Ambassador Hotel on the day of RFK's assassination—will heap fuel on the fires of those who bemoan liberal Hollywood. As writer-director, Emilio Estevez delivers a nearly artless succession of message-burdened scenes anchored by recognizable actors. It's an awkward tribute to the man deified here as the last man standing for civil rights after MLK's death and "the nation's best hope for an honorable withdrawal from an unpopular war." An unpopular war? Withdrawal? Hmmm.
The distracting parade of talent includes exec producer Anthony Hopkins, Sharon Stone, William H. Macy, Demi Moore, Christian Slater, Lindsay Lohan, Laurence Fishburne, Helen Hunt, Elijah Wood, Ashton Kutcher, Harry Belafonte, and presumably proud papa Martin Sheen—and that's literally just the half of the principal cast. The cast wouldn't distract, of course, if Bobby was any good.
Unfortunately, this is no JFK, and even as it champions the social underdogs of the '60s, one can't help imagining women, African-Americans, and Latinos telling Estevez, don't do us any favors, buddy. Since the highly "scripty" script is so poorly constructed and staged (and obviously couldn't be "found" in the editing room), every isolated moment or trapping that might be excused in a better film leaps up like a cowlick that just won't behave: Demi Moore drawling through "Louie Louie" comes to mind.
Described as "A City Within the City," the Los Angeles-located Ambassador becomes a supposed microcosm of 1968 social politics. Two young Kennedy campaign workers (Brian Geraghty and Shia LeBeouf) blow off their get-out-the-vote duties to buy pot from Kutcher's paranoid drug dealer. Meanwhile, there are racial tensions in the kitchen, where Latinos (Freddie Rodriguez and Jacob Vargas) frown over their treatment ("We're the new niggers, brother") and Fishburne's sage chef advises playing along ("White folks just don't want to be pushed into a corner...they want to think it was their idea").
Up the food chain are campaign staffers (Joshua Jackson and Nick Cannon), a Czech journalist (Svetlana Metkina) inexplicably allowed to roam free, two retirees hanging about the lobby (Hopkins and Belafonte), and the hotel manager (Macy), a supposed progressive liberal who hasn't learned to treat women as equals. His hairdresser wife (Sharon Stone) bonds with Moore's alcoholic singing star ("You know we're all whores. Just some of us get paid"), who's married to Estevez's Sonny Bono-esque second fiddle.
Round and round she goes—where she stops, nobody knows. Wherever the Wheel of Importance stops, you can be sure of one thing: there'll be a hideously on-the-nose musical selection. In his hippie Halloween costume, Kutcher convinces his young charges to drop acid—to the tune of "White Rabbit," natch. The big finish scores "The Sound of Silence," one of two Simon and Garfunkel songs.
The character and sixties details rarely convince (the campaign workers rather savvily use the term "body double" in reference to The Graduate), and the plot points are often unrealistic (Macy firing a key employee on the day of the big event, and that employee sticking around to work his last day anyway). It's all in the service of absurd points reaching for modern relevance (you young people should get involved, darn it, instead of wasting your lives on drugs) or pointless dramatic gestures (Lohan deciding whether she loves the man she's ostensibly marrying to rescue him from Vietnam).
To be fair, Bobby has a few solid moments. Estevez gets a laugh with a description of an innovative new voting method using a metal stylus (beware of CHADs!), and Fishburne's character makes an interesting psychological point about what is required for contentment—basically, pride of accomplishment. The film leaps to a higher level whenever Estevez conjures Kennedy's inspirational orations, primarily at the film's outset and resolution. But Estevez just selects the words he wants and edits them into his misfired drama—where's the pride of accomplishment in that?