Picks and Pans Review: Bob Roberts

updated 09/14/1992 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/14/1992 01:00AM

Tim Robbins, Alan Rickman, Brian Murray

If Bob Dylan had run for the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania in 1990, this might have seemed like a cutting satire. As it is, it is an unfocused, silly, timid, tasteless, uninformed political comedy about a singer (his albums include Bob on Bob and The Freewheeling Bob Roberts) who runs for the Senate as a right-winger against an incumbent played by Gore Vidal.

Robbins (The Player) is a strong actor. But writing and directing for the first time, he capriciously demeans the Desert Storm war; evokes, in a comic context, the murder of Robert Kennedy; and derides people who pray.

His script shows little knowledge of politics. When a supporter tells Robbins, "I wish I could vote for you 100 times," the obvious reply is, "Why don't you move to Chicago?" Robbins just says, inexplicably, "You can."

Robbins also settled for limp supporting performances. Rickman (Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves) is only feebly sinister as Robbins's campaign chairman, and stage actor Murray is innocuous as a filmmaker whose documentary about Robbins frames the movie. Better are James Spader, Fred Ward, Peter Gallagher and Susan Sarandon as fatuous TV news anchors, and country singer Kelly Willis as Robbins's singing partner.

One political concept Robbins may grasp is nepotism. In addition to Sarandon, Robbins's girlfriend, eight other Robbinses are in the credits. Tim's brother, David, cowrote Tim's inane songs. ("I'm a bleeding heart/ Let's throw some money around.")

Robbins's potshots at the S&L scandal and candidates' hypocrisy do no damage. He also ineffectually blasts the '60s as "a moral stain on American history." (R)

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