In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_pride_ver2

Pride

Takes a formulaic approach but is ultimately very effective in its retelling of the fundraising activities of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. Would make…

Thumb_boxtrolls_ver13

The Boxtrolls

"The Boxtrolls" is a beautiful example of the potential in LAIKA's stop-motion approach, and the images onscreen are tactile and layered. But, as always, it's…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives

Reviews

My Fellow Americans

  |  

Only the thought that the same words will be used by every other reviewer in the country prevents me from referring to “My Fellow Americans” as “Grumpy Old Presidents.” Or did I just do that? James Garner steps into the role usually played by Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon plays his usual grump, and 102 minutes of insult humor rolls painlessly past.

The characters: Lemmon was president for four years, and then was defeated by Garner, who was president for four years before being defeated by Dan Aykroyd. Lemmon, such a penny-pincher that he wants to charge Garner for half a Tootsie Roll, is vaguely George Bushian. Garner, a ladies' man, is vaguely Clintonian. Aykroyd is not really presidential at all, but his vice president, played by John Heard, is aimed squarely at Dan Quayle.

Given this premise, “My Fellow Americans” could have been hard-edged political satire, but that's not what anybody connected with the film had in mind. Neither Republicans nor Democrats will find anything to really offend them, and although some audience members may be surprised at the salty language of the two ex-presidents, all the evidence indicates that the actual recent inhabitants of the Oval House, Jimmy Carter perhaps excluded, have had extremely well-developed vocabularies.

The story: The Aykroyd character, about to be skewered in a kickback scandal, finds a way to shift the blame to the two ex-Presidents. They of course hate one another, but find themselves fighting for their lives after Administration hitmen blow up their helicopter (just after they've left it).

Evidence to prove Lemmon's innocence may be in his Presidential Library in Ohio, but there are killers looking for the two men, and they escape only by the neat trick of posing as celebrity lookalikes of themselves.

A lot of the movie is, shall we say, not convincing (I was personally certain that I would never again see Jack Lemmon or James Garner leaping from a moving train, but I was wrong). Chase scenes involve the usual assortment of on-the-road types, including a colorful female truck driver, an Elvis imitator, illegal immigrants, and the “Dykes on Bikes” motorcycle club. These scenes are familiar from many another film.

What's entertaining, however, is the way the movie skewers the human weaknesses of the two old Presidents. It's funny when Lemmon collects a big paycheck for giving a speech before a Japanese insurance company, and finds himself dancing with the company mascot, a giant panda. It's funny when Garner agrees to write his memoirs mostly in the hopes of sleeping with his sexy book editor. It's funny when Lemmon boasts of his 11 books in print, including a cookbook, “Hail to the Chef.” And touching when he confesses he only writes the books to remind people that he still exists.

Both actors have enormous charm, work easily together, and have enough parallels with real-life counterparts that we can amuse ourselves playing Spot-the-Chief Executive. I liked the moment, for example, when Garner (posing as his own celebrity impersonator) meets a blonde who tells him she slept with “the real guy.” Garner is interested. “What was he, uh, like?” And I smiled as Lemmon drank vodka from hotel minibars and then refilled the little bottles with water to keep from being charged.

“My Fellow Americans” is a series of cheap shots and missed opportunities, but a lot of the cheap shots are funny, and maybe the climate is wrong for sharply barbed political satire. I dunno. This is not a great comedy and will be soon forgotten, but it has nice moments. I'm giving it two and a half affectionate stars. I was tempted to give it three, in the spirit of the season, but the Grinch stole the half-star.

Popular Blog Posts

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Why my video essay about "All that Jazz" is not on the Criterion blu-ray

Bob Fosse's masterpiece "All That Jazz" jumps back and forth through the past and the present, and through memory and...

The Unloved, Part Ten: "The Village"

Part ten in Scout Tafoya's The Unloved series tackles "The Village."

Ebert's Most Hated

EDITOR'S NOTE: Sometimes, Roger Ebert is exposed to bad movies. When that happens, it is his duty -- if not necessari...

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus