leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh
Emilio Estevez's lament for the lost ideals of the ’60s draws heavily from the Robert Altman playbook, weaving multiple stories around a galvanizing event — in this case, the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy in the kitchen of Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel moments after winning the California presidential primary. June 4, 1968: Fading but still fabled, the Ambassador plays host to a broad spectrum of guests in town to attend a Kennedy campaign reception that night. Throughout the day, they cross and diverge — from underpaid switchboard operators Patricia (Joy Bryant) and Angela (Heather Graham), who's having an affair with her boss, hotel manager Paul Ebbers (William H. Macy), to high-strung socialite Samantha Stevens (Helen Hunt) and her wealthy husband (Martin Sheen) — all coming together at the glittering celebration. On-the-skids chanteuse Virginia Fallon (Demi Moore), is scheduled to introduce the senator; Paul's wife, hotel beautician Miriam (Sharon Stone), bears daily witness to the alcoholism that's ruining Virginia's career and her marriage to former drummer Tim (Estevez). Miriam also attends to Diane (Lindsay Lohan), who's about to marry William (Elijah Wood) in hopes of keeping him out of Vietnam. Paul fires racist catering manager Timmons (Christian Slater) for failing to permit his largely Latino staff to vote; however, busboy Jose (Freddy Rodriguez) is more disappointed that he's working an unexpected double shift and won't get to see Los Angeles Dodger Don Drysdale pitch what could be a record-breaking game. Meanwhile, Kennedy campaign manager Wade Buckley (Joshua Jackson) and his right hand, Dwayne (Nick Cannon), coordinate last-minute campaign efforts; Czech journalist Lenka Janacek (Svetlana Metkina) doggedly pursues an interview; and two young volunteers (Shia LeBeouf, Brian Geraghty) shirk their responsibilities to drop acid. Retired doorman John Casey (Anthony Hopkins), who has greeted generations of visitors, returns daily to the hotel's lobby to play checkers with his old friend Nelson (Harry Belafonte). Estevez hammers home the parallels between the discontents of the '60s and the '00s — unpopular war, divisive political climate, voting irregularities and even hanging chads — and makes free with pop-culture references, from THE GRADUATE (partly shot at the Ambassador) and PLANET OF THE APES to Casey's observation that "people come, people go, nothing happens," which has the unfortunate effect of suggesting that this film is just a politicized spin on GRAND HOTEL. Though Estevez's achievement doesn't quite live up to his ambitions — the climax of Altman's NASHVILLE (1975) evokes the same brutal loss of innocence to more shattering effect — it still contains enough powerful moments to balance the weaker sections.