Bob-bob-bobbin' along

Issue 

Bob-bob-bobbin' along

Bob Roberts (M)
Written and directed by Tim Robbins
Reviewed by Mario Giorgetti

Meeting halls across Pennsylvania ring to the cheering and the clapping and the stamping that characterises the hysteria of electioneering, as Bob Roberts, a singing politician running for the US Senate, strums his guitar and chants his "Right is right, left is wrong" message to unusually receptive audiences, prompting the cynics to ask: Is this guy for real?

Hot on the heels of the Bob phenomenon, a British film crew, making a video-vérité documentary of this pilgrim's progress, is determined to find out.

Bob is played by Tim Robbins, who received a Golden Globe for best actor in Robert Altman's The Player and who does not mind admitting to being influenced by Altman's work in the production of this film. In this directorial debut, Robbins has cast himself in the role of self-made millionaire, folk singer and youthful preacher of New Right values.

Bob's music and his message strike a chord and have bobbing crowds of conservative middle Americans thronging his meetings. This usually silent majority is mesmerised by Bob's words and dancing to his tune.

As the campaign gathers momentum, Bob becomes a kind of messiah to misguided patriots who revel in his simplistic lyrics and promises of a new world dawnin'.

He echoes their long-cherished belief that the US is morally bankrupt and needs to cleanse itself of the transgressions of well-meaning but spineless liberal Democrats and of all kinds of griping minorities and unworthy welfare recipients, who are, according to Bob, sponging on the system and corrupting the country's basic values.

What precisely those values are, Bob the politician does not make too clear, but anyone can see that they're up there with good clean livin' and mum's apple pie.

Then an investigative journalist (Giancarlo Esposito) rattles some old bones in Bob's closet, implicating him in a savings and loans scandal.

As the story breaks, the Bob camp starts sharpening its long knives. The situation calls for some imaginative dirty tricks, and things get messy. Bob is dangerous when cornered, and in a Machiavellian twist, he finds the means to a victorious campaign and leaves us wondering how far he is prepared to go to secure a victory.

This entertaining satire, filmed entirely in a documentary style, is essentially a comedy, but its message is disturbing — and dead serious.