By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: Rock star becomes President.
I was going to post this review the day after the election, but decided given the results that I might postpone it a few days as I didn’t want some readers who might feel a bit on edge with the outcome getting any more nervous. The film’s subject matter consists of what at the time was considered simply wild satire, but now in these crazy political times may actually hit frighteningly close to home.
The story centers around Max Frost (Christopher Jones) a rock star who has become a major teen idol to the nation’s young people. Senator Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook) is running for office and wants to campaign to lower the voting age to 18 in an attempt to garner support from young Americans, which in turn he hopes will get him into the Presidency. He asks for the assistance of Max to help him in his pursuit. Max agrees, but then promotes the idea to his fan base of lowering the voting age not to 18, but to 14. Fergus is ill-prepared for the onslaught of enthusiasm this idea has with the teens. He reluctantly agrees to compromise and pass a bill that allows this, but to his shock it gets Max elected President and not him. With Max in office things spiral recklessly out-of-control. Hippies take over the senate and pass extreme laws that send anyone over 30 into concentration camps where they are forced fed LSD.
The script by Robert Thom is unabashedly cynical, which is what I liked most about it. It takes no sides. The younger generation is exposed with just as much foibles as the older one. The film never compromises on its dark tone and the bleak scenarios get pushed to the ultimate extreme, but horrifyingly never fall all that far from the truth.
The film’s acerbic humor is refreshingly on-target. Director Barry Shear camouflages the low budget with a quick pace that emphasizes the frailties and reactions of its characters. Holbrook is superb as the idealist who gets a harsh dose of ugly reality that sends him more and more on edge. Shelley Winters is hilarious as Max’s narcissist mother who uses her son’s rise to fame as an opening for her own entrance into the spotlight. She appears sporadically throughout, but manages to own every scene that she is in when she does.
Jones is excellent in the lead and I considered him very much like James Dean both in is looks and acting method. He’s perfect for the role except in close-ups he looks middle-aged as he was already 30, which hurts the theme since anyone over 25 was considered the enemy. Diane Varsi is quite sexy as a flower child and I loved the scene of her first day in congress where she and her radical young followers send the elders in the room into a shocked free-for-all. The film also gives you a glimpse of famous child TV stars in early roles including Barry Williams, famous from playing Greg in ‘The Brady Bunch’ and Kellie Flanagan who went on the play Candice in ‘The Ghost and Mrs. Muir’.
While I was impressed with the bird’s-eye-view of the mob scenes and how many people they were able to get to be a part of the teen protesters I still felt that there should’ve been violence and raw emotion in these sequences in order to have been more effective. The ending makes its point and then gets very heavy-handed and goes on too long repeating the same statement that the audience already got the first time, but overall I really liked this film and felt that now more than ever it’s quite timely.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: May 29, 1968
Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes
Director: Barry Shear
Studio: American Pictures International
Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video