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Thin as aluminum foil

“Bobby”The Weinstein CompanyWritten and directed by Emilio EstevezStarring: Anthony Hopkins, William H. Macy, Nick Cannon, Laurence Fishburne, Freddy Rodriguez, Martin Sheen, Helen Hunt, Sharon Stone, Shia LeBeouf and Lindsay LohanRated R/120 minutesOpened Nov. 24, 2006Two out of four stars

Chris BellamyThe Daily Utah Chronicle

It’s funny how there have been major motion pictures named after both John and Robert Kennedy, yet neither has been about the men themselves, but about the legacy left by their respective deaths.

Oliver Stone’s “JFK” examined the civil unrest, paranoia, mistrust of government and overall breakdown of the American ideal in the wake of the president’s 1963 assassination. Now comes “Bobby,” which tries to tell us how the tenuous hopes of a nation were dashed — and the fears realized — by the sudden shooting of Robert F. Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel on the day of the 1968 California primaries.

This is probably indicative of how important both men have become as symbols, even if neither was ever able to leave enough of a substantive legacy in public policy. RFK’s status as a historical symbol is exactly what writer/director Emilio Estevez tries to focus on in “Bobby.” Through a running series of vignettes involving those in and around the famed hotel on the day of the shooting, Estevez tries to encapsulate a generational mood — one of great hope and even greater anxiety — of the American people and see how that mood is shattered by Kennedy’s assassination. RFK, at least in the minds of the characters in “Bobby,” represents a chance for change, or even salvation.

Now that sounds like a good movie.

One small problem: The events and characters in “Bobby” are neither interesting nor relevant, not to mention unbearably contrived. Instead of three-dimensional characters whose daily lives add up to something thematically captivating, Estevez peppers his film only with what amounts to a series of clichéd, melodramatic subplots that don’t have anything to do with anything. This is paint-by-numbers melodrama — and I mean lots and lots of numbers.

The cast is unreasonably big — cripplingly so — and in that regard I can’t decide if Estevez over-thought or under-thought his film. Did he try to cram too many characters into one movie, or did he just not have enough to say about any of them?

The deliberately multicultural cast certainly has no shortage of artificial intrigue, but most of the subplots exist completely separate from either the era in question or the thematic significance Estevez is trying so hard to hammer down. A pair of young Kennedy campaign volunteers has its first acid trip. An attractive young switchboard operator is having an affair with her boss. A doorman reminisces about 50 years of?well, being a doorman. An aging wife finds out her husband is cheating on her. People are getting fired and getting laid and having the kinds of personal crises we’re used to seeing on daytime television. There’s a bizarre King Arthur reference that I can’t begin to put into context.

But except for passing references to the era, these stories have nothing whatsoever to do with Bobby Kennedy or what he represented.

“Bobby” is interesting to consider in the light of the recent death of another famous Bobby-the late, great Robert Altman.

Altman perfected (invented?) the broad, character-driven ensemble piece in the 1970s, and his influence — both for better and worse — can be seen across Hollywood. But in “Bobby,” Estevez is so desperately trying to do Altman that he’s practically eulogizing the man. There is something admirable in Estevez’ conviction, but from conception to film, something got lost.

“So, Lindsay?what ‘favor’ did Emilio do to get you to agree to this film?” Elijah Wood sports awful facial hair and wonders why he and Lindsay Lohan are there in “Bobby.”

“Listen, son. You have a choice

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