What you didn't know about the shooting of Robert F. Kennedy could fill several volumes or, at the least, one movie with the nose of a small-town gossip columnist and the roving eye of a hotel detective.
Had you heard, for instance, that while assassin Sirhan Sirhan was conniving to worm his way into the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 4, 1968, the hotel's manager was having an in-house affair with one of his employees? Or that the celebrated songstress slated to introduce RFK at a post-primary bash (and whose hair was prepped by the hotel manager's beautician wife) was a lush? Or that two of Kennedy's campaign volunteers were holed up in one of the guest rooms, toasted on acid?
That's just the iceberg's tip. Thanks to actor-turned-director/writer/scandal-mongerer Emilio Estevez, the veilof silence has been lifted. Mixing exhaustive research with the florid imagination of an airport shop bestseller, Estevez has concocted "Bobby," an exercise in historical revisionism for folks who would rather be informed of breaking national crises through news feeds on "All My Children."
The multifarious characters that populate "Bobby" make reference to such movie hits of its late '60s era as "The Graduate" and "Planet of the Apes," but the film is really a throwback to those glossy all-star entertainments such as "The V.I.P.s," "Hotel" and the briefly acknowledged "Grand Hotel," in which little personal dramas are being played out in every corner of a bustling institution.
Why would tourists in Hollywood waste time hunting for stars at Schwab's Drug Store when they could be at the Ambassador, where former hotel workers Anthony Hopkins and Harry Belafonte can be glimpsed playingchess in the lobby, or Mexican emigre waiter Freddy Rodriguez of "Six Feet Under" is in the kitchen locking horns with chef Laurence Fishburne and their racist boss Christian Slater?
Look sharp, there's manager William H. Macy, a self-described equal opportunity employer, racing from a clandestine clutch with switchboard operator Heather Graham to a haircut from his hairdresser wife Sharon Stone. Could that be Lindsay Lohan in Stone's chair, redoing her dark, bleeding-liberal hair in preparation for a marriage of convenience to save Elijah Wood from going to Vietnam? Is that Ashton Kutcher behind that elaborate hippie disguise, or Martin Sheen and Helen Hunt as asocialite couple on their second honeymoon?
It's a little dumbfounding to step back and consider that each of these mawkish vignettes are being played out as warm-up acts for an assassination, when all the characters will bang up together in blood-soaked misfortune like Thornton Wilder's five in "The Bridge of San Luis Rey."
Estevez intends his characters to underscore Kennedy's speech, heard at the film's closing, about the urgent need for unity among Americans and the futility of violence as a means to an end. We're supposed to hear the parallels to the divisiveness of present times, but the words feelstacked on and trivialized by the soap opera-ish context.
The film's lionized hero is seen only in news clips, like Princess Diana in "The Queen." The sole exception is when he is whisked into the hotel for his post-California primary speech, and an actor in RFK wig can be glimpsed obliquely, like Jesus Christ in "Ben-Hur."