On June 5, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy won the California Democratic Primary, a crucial victory in a tight race that pitted him against Minnesota senator Eugene McCarthy and establishment favorite Hubert Humphrey. A few minutes after addressing his supporters at Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel, Kennedy was assassinated by disaffected Palestinian-American Sirhan Sirhan. Kennedy's campaign took place against a backdrop of civil tumult and political unrest. But judging from the look of Bobby, his assassination took place against a backdrop of flat characters stuck in stock dramatic situations, interesting only because we know they're due to be interrupted by gunfire.
Writer, director, and co-star Emilio Estevez has clearly spent some time watching Robert Altman films, but he has a strong enough directorial presence to put his own stamp on the style. He gracefully escorts his characters through a day at The Ambassador, and the film repays his insistence on filming on the grounds of the historic hotel, even as it was being demolished. His decision to load the cast with stars often serves him well, too. Laurence Fishburne only steps slightly out of the wise-mentor corner he's painted himself into lately, but it's enough to count, and a barely recognizable Sharon Stone proves surprisingly affecting as the hotel's dissatisfied staff beautician.
Too bad it's more compelling to look at than it is to watch. Nearly all the characters, like the soundtrack, have been cut and pasted out of The Big Book Of '60s Clichés, from the straitlaced campaign workers who drop acid for the first time (Brian Geraghty and Shia LaBeouf) to the ranting hippie who turns them on (an unconvincing Ashton Kutcher) to the single-gal switchboard operator (Heather Graham) in love with an older man (William H. Macy) to the angry, angry black man (Nick Cannon) waiting to have what remains of his ideals shattered. And so it goes, on down the line to Demi Moore's boozy singer trading on what's left of her fame. (It's a campy turn, but Moore at least deserves credit for her ability to keep a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other in every scene.)
Occasionally, the acting is enough to keep the ball in play. Freddy Rodríguez does fine work as a kitchen worker who'd rather be watching Don Drysdale attempt to break the consecutive shutout record. More often, we're left stranded watching pat turns in malnourished scenarios. Lindsay Lohan and Elijah Wood court sparklessly as they prepare for a wedding designed to keep him off the frontlines. Not-so-impressive gamine newcomer Svetlana Metkina stumbles through a role as a Czechoslovakian journalist trying to score some face time with RFK, getting out-acted by Christian Slater in the process (a sure sign that a career change is a good idea). And for all the time the film spends on building to the big event—ending with a long, stirring Kennedy speech—the film has virtually nothing to say about the man itself, or about much of anything, really. It's a sketchbook trying to pass as a tapestry.