I stumbled across today’s flick entirely by accident (thanks Lovefilm), but the topicality cannot be denied. In the wake of this week’s Presidential election, let’s see what happens when Hollywood throws two legendary comedic actors into the fray.
Garner and Lemmon finally together.
Former US Presidents Russell Kramer and Matt Douglas hate each other. While independently looking into an allegation of corruption, they stumble upon a bigger conspiracy. After an assassination attempt on them fails, the two men go on the run in order to find proof of the conspiracy and save their own lives. Oh yeah, and it’s a comedy.
Imagine, if you will, George Bush Sr and Bill Clinton going on a road trip by themselves through the rural northeastern United States to avoid being murdered by NSA agents working for Dan Quayle. Now imagine Bush and Clinton being played by Jack Lemmon and James Garner, with Dan Aykroyd as the new guy in the round room. The result is a low-key but amusing flick that I didn’t even know existed until a few hours ago.
The film does have a plot, but that’s just an excuse to get the two old guys arguing for a hundred minutes. Lemmon plays Kramer, the penny-pinching Republican who now makes a living renting himself out to corporations, while Garner plays Douglas, the ladies-man Democrat who beat Kramer and is now writing his memoirs and sleeping with his editor (CSI’s Marg Helgenberger). The two of them are as sharp as ever, but together they are an absolute class act. Apparently the film was written for Lemmon to star with Walter Matthau, but he wasn’t healthy enough to participate at the time. Watching Lemmon and Garner together is bittersweet; they are dynamite playing off each other, but I only wish they had worked together more.
My Fellow Americans is at its strongest whenever Lemmon and Garner are sharing the screen, however the rest of it does tend to flounder a little. It takes quite a leap of logic to accept two recent ex-presidents wandering alone through the woods of Ohio before kidnapping the current president’s Chief of Staff (a pre-West Wing Bradley Whitford) but the script by Jack Kaplan, Richard Chapman and Rescue Me’s Peter Tolan is fully aware of the fact that the whole conspiracy plot is just a Macguffin. The problem is when the need to wind up the story encroaches on the romantic comedy aspect of watching these two old geezers bonding on their road trip.
In these modern, enlightened times, some of the jokes might seem a bit off-colour, particularly at the expense of the Republican characters. I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest that the cast and crew were mostly Democrats. There are subtle moments of satire scattered throughout the script, and the scenes where our two out-of-touch heroes get to meet the “real people” that their policies have affected are handled with a lightness of touch that avoids breaking up the banter with too much schmaltz. If you have seen the two-part West Wing episode “20 Hours in America” then this movie might ring a few bells.
I couldn’t even tell you if this movie got any kind of release outside the US back in 1996, but if you’re a fan of these two lead actors then you can do worse than spending an afternoon in the company of Presidents Kramer and Douglas.