Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Unpardonable: "My Fellow Americans" (1996)

A "wow" cast cannot save this extended sitcom.

Former U.S. Presidents Russell Kramer (Jack Lemmon) and Matt Douglas (James Garner) are wiling away their retirement. Kramer beat Douglas in a close race, Douglas defeated Kramer four years later, and then Kramer's vice-president Haney (Dan Aykroyd) came back and defeated Douglas. Douglas (the Democrat) and Kramer (the Republican) hate each other, tossing insults when lumped together at funerals. Both men are flawed. Kramer is a cheapskate, selling out for a dollar, while Douglas is going through a divorce thanks to his womanizing.

President Haney is coasting in the White House with his idiot vice-president (John Heard) when scandal reels its predictable head. A plan is concocted to blame the scandal on Kramer, and Douglas finds himself sucked into the situation as well. Soon, the two men are on the run from a hit squad composed of a shadowy NSA agent (Everett McGill, too serious in such a lightweight comedy) and the former presidents hit the road and must deal with the real people they once led.

Lemmon and Garner have a great chemistry (Garner subbing in a role originally meant for Walter Matthau), and a quick glance at the cast is pretty impressive. However, the film's screenplay is too light, and barely any of it rings true. Sure, it's fun to see Bradley Whitford in a White House-set story before "The West Wing," and wonder why Helgenberger is uncredited, but by the time the end credits roll, you have a barely funny flick that wastes that impressive set of actors. Peter Segal's direction is certainly...there, although the funniest sequence should not be a badly-shot special effects sequence involving our leading men on horses.

I used to be a more hardcore Conservative, so it was funny to watch a "balanced" Hollywood take on flyover country. The family the presidents encounter are Republicans so they are naturally morons but the gays and illegal immigrants come off really well. The main villains are also Republicans. To rub salt in the wound, Aykroyd's President Haney is not only evil but seems to hail from Texas and his vice-president is an idiot. Garner is a ladies' man, but this character trait is charming and rascally (like how many see Bill Clinton). The "Republican" former president is cheap and a sell-out and his wife (a wasted Lauren Bacall- who has a handful of lines and little to do) gets to take a swipe at George H.W. Bush. It is very ironic that this passes as Liberal Hollywood's take on the ivory tower politicians in D.C. Maybe they shouldn't be throwing stones inside their Hollywood Hills mansions? The screenplay is also oddly misogynistic. Bacall's role is slashed, Sela Ward's character is like something out of "All the President's Men," before she vanishes, and Marg Helgenberger sexes up Garner before she disappears, too. The film's focus is obviously on Garner and Lemmon, but not even a scene of Bacall showing concern for her missing husband?

There are some funny lines, Garner and Lemmon seem to have fun, but the story is bland. I think I laughed out loud once, and mostly had a semi-grin on my face. Other than that, watching this cast of pros muddle through this level of comedy is depressing. "My Fellow Americans" has about as many laughs as "Olympus Has Fallen." For a charming comedy centered around D.C., check out "Dave." (* *) out of five stars.