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Those hoping to gain some insight on Robert F. Kennedy's political career, what he might have brought to the presidency, and the events leading up to his assassination will have to wait for a History Channel special as writer/director/actor Emilio Estevez's latest project, Bobby, sheds no light on the life of its titular hero. It does, however, provide some heady material for soap-opera fans.
Like a particularly convoluted season of Days of Our Lives, Bobby (rated R for language, violence, and drug content) follows the conflict, the affairs, the drug use, and the drunkenness of 22 characters in the Ambassador Hotel on the day the 1968 presidential candidate won the California primary and lost his life. It's hard to make that many story lines resonate with the period, and though a couple live up to the task (particularly those involving a Latino busboy and a young war bride), the rest seem tawdry and inconsequential compared to the seriousness of the film's subject.
What he lacks in gravitas, Estevez apparently hopes to make up for in star power. Sir Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, Martin Sheen, Demi Moore, Sharon Stone, and William H. Macy all play what essentially amount to bit parts, and the constant coming and going of such recognizable faces proves distracting.
Unfortunately, Estevez forgets to provide any of them a full story. As soon as we discover Macy's character is cheating on Stone's character with Heather Graham's character we're thrown into a scene with Sheen and Hunt whose plot line involves some sort of marital strife that is never explained. Save for Oscar night, rarely have so many A-listers gathered in one place for so little purpose.
In the meantime we learn nothing of RFK the man and are given no concrete reason why Estevez evidently considered him our nation's last great hope for racial harmony. MTV-esque montages of Kennedy speeches stand in for historical analysis. Archival footage of Kennedy boosters substitutes for enthusiasm the film itself fails to provide.
In light of uncomfortable facts like Kennedy's willingness to tap Martin Luther King's phones, Estevez's hagiography feels simple-minded. That's not to say there weren't achievements to be honored in Robert F. Kennedy's career; Bobby just doesn't bother to do so.
-Megan Basham is a freelance film critic