Sean Penn is the reason—isn't he always?—to see this muddled movie about a ne'er-do-well who, having failed at marriage and various jobs, decides to hijack a plane and crash it into the White House in 1974.
Inspired partly by the real-life story of would-be killer Samuel Byck (spelled Bicke here), The Assassination of Richard Nixon gives Penn the opportunity to deliver another accomplished performance full of feeling and nuance as he charts Bicke's unraveling. The movie posits that Bicke's cockamamie assassination plan is somehow a noble expression of his frustration at both Watergate and the hamster wheel of the American dream. No matter how good Penn is, it's difficult to sympathize with Bicke. This former tire and office furniture salesman is, after all, more than a little nuts. Watts scores in her few scenes as Bicke's understandably out-of-patience ex-wife, and Don Cheadle (see Hotel Rwanda review, above) has a couple of remarkable scenes as a buddy with whom Bicke hopes to go into business. (R)