A couple of movie theater chains have huffily declined to show Death of a President, but don’t get excited, if you owned a moviehouse, you’d probably pass on the movie, too. Gabriel Range’s leaden docudrama is a tone-deaf work with less insight than a slot-filling cable TV doc and zero imagination about its scenario: the assassination of President Bush one year from now after a gladhanding event in Chicago. Part of the problem is the economy, stupid: Range seems unable to set up his story concisely, yielding something satisfying neither as edifying docu-horror or as suspense. While the movie’s premise probably means that Range will enjoy regular “friendly visits” from Secret Service agents for the foreseeable future, there’s not much here to provoke actual thought (and comparisons to Peter Watkins, whose 60s work remains more relevant than this, are laughable).
Rushing the film out this fall is so transparent as to make the film incidental, a meta-event, riding clashing waves of paranoiac fantasy and patriotism. Death the actual movie mucks about for a full hour with the lead-up and thereafter with forensics, before lumbering through transparent red herrings and pandering subplots involving innocent Muslim suspects. (One nice twist is the shooting itself: blink and you’ll miss it.) Disposing of the ensuing Cheney administration with a mention of a Patriot Act III, Range only rarely tucks in meaningful commentary, like an Ahmed Chalabi figure cherry-picking intel on a talk show, or Bush’s worshipful speechwriter. Newmarket Films, which also handled Mel Gibson’s bone-crushing Passionmobile, may arouse controversy again, but not interest. Opens 27 at Angelika Film Center