Well hello, Mr. Garner…
OK, so 1996’s My Fellow Americans is a political satire and, I’ll admit, an ironic choice for an election year, but we’re gonna roll with it. Heck, we’re going to lay the irony on thick here, because 1996 was the year Bill Clinton and Bob Dole locked horns for the Presidency. However, I’m going to do my best to stay non-partisan because we don’t want that, plus I for one am sick of the current news circus…er, cycle. Anyway, onward…
Russell P. Kramer (Jack Lemmon) is a Republican, and Matthew Douglas (James Garner) is a Democrat. They’ve both had their turns at being President, and now Russell’s old vice president, William Haney (Dan Akroyd) is President himself. His vice president, Ted Matthews (John Heard) is a ninny who makes racist remarks to a black guy he accidentally hits in the head with a golf ball.
As ex-chief executives, Matthew and Russell are looking for ways to fill their time and hold on to some of their Presidential lustre. Matthew is sleeping with his editor and charming random chicks on the golf course. Russell is writing cookbooks and hosting company dedications where, on one occasion, he finds himself dancing with a panda bear. These dudes can’t stand each other, and they’re not shy about expressing it.
When the two of them are accused of taking bribes, they each try to meet with Charlie Reynolds (James Rebhorn), the guy who’s apparently been doing the palm-greasing. Only problem is, Charlie gets mysteriously shot.
William sends a helicopter for Matt and Russell on the pretense of taking them to Camp David for safety reasons, but when the copter goes the wrong way, the two of them quickly realize their lives are on the line, too. They make it off just before the helicopter explodes, leaving them stranded in the countryside.
Russell realizes they can crack the whole case and clear his and Matt’s names if they can get to his Presidential Library in Cleveland and look at the archives. Since everyone thinks they’re dead, Russell and Matt decide to pose as lookalikes of themselves and basically hitch a ride to Cleveland. It’s a long way and they can’t get there in one fell swoop, so the journey involves an Elvis lookalike, a lady truck driver, a gay pride parade, a lesbian biker group, and a down-on-their-luck family. There’s a lot of education in store for both of them, and they may not be the stellar chief executives they think they were.
Oh, and let’s not forget William has his men on Matt’s and Russell’s tails looking to kill them and bury the scandal. Making it to Cleveland is one thing, but getting in the clear is another.
What did I think of this little odyssey? Well, partisanship is the least of my concerns when it comes to My Fellow Americans.
Simply put, this movie is lame–so much so, I kept thinking it was made for TV. It starts out annoyingly irksome, but about thirty minutes in it tapers off to annoying and nutty. It reminds me of The Man Who Knew Too Little in that just when it seems things can’t get any crazier, they do. Only instead of an exploding matreshka, we have a band of guys dressed as Dorothy and marching in ruby slippers.
There are also some painfully bad composite shots of Matt and Russell riding horses. And “The Macarena” is rather prominently featured because 1996. Plus, the dialogue sounds like a cleaned-up version of a Cheech and Chong routine, minus the cannabis.
Another problem is that the principle characters are woefully underutilized. The times that Garner, Lemmon, and Akroyd share the screen can be counted on one hand, which is disappointing–these guys could have played off each other so well since they were all great ad-libbers. It would have been interesting to see what one of the Ephron sisters would have done with the story, too.
What I really disliked about the movie is that it takes unfortunate and unfounded swipes at Republicans, particularly Dan Quayle, who was clearly being skewered in the character of Ted Martin. While there’s a lot that can be said about the guy, Dan Quayle is no racist. I get that the movie is supposed to be satirical, but for satire to work, a subject’s worst points have to actually be its worst points. My Fellow Americans might seem all edgy and stuff when it’s really just taking potshots.
To be fair, Democrats aren’t off the hook even though they’re portrayed in a more positive light. Of the two ex-Presidents, Matt is the bigger agitator. He’s the guy who pushes Russell off a train. He seldom makes gaffes. He’s also a womanizer who thinks he can get by on sheer charm. On the other hand, though, he finds that his charm can’t get him everywhere. The film just stops short of the plausibility jugular, because Bill Clinton’s history with women was well-known in 1996, and it’s hard not to see Clinton in Matt Douglas. Funny thing, it was two years before the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
In the film’s favor, Matt and Russell are sobered to learn that their tone-deafness has brought a lot of hardships on the Americans they claim they were elected to help. It also implies that the values of both parties aren’t as far apart as they seem, and that American politics are more like running on a hamster wheel than elected officials honestly representing voters’ interests. It’s refreshing that Matt and Russell find a way to step off the wheel and do something different.
I don’t like submitting a less-than-glowing (or at least favorable) review for a tribute blogathon, because it’s like walking into a party with a bad attitude–it kinda dampens the festive mood. However, I also wanted to review something I had never seen before, and My Fellow Americans was at the library. So yeah, whoops. Sorry, all. I guess it happens sometimes. Still, horizon-broadening is what blogging and blogathons are all about, so I think I scored in that regard.
For more of the wonderful James Garner, please visit Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews. Thanks for hosting, Gill–it was still fun, even if I did pick a turkey of a movie. Thanks for reading, everyone, and I hope you’ll come back tomorrow for a new “Page To Screen.” Hasta luego…
My Fellow Americans is available on DVD from Amazon.