Protocol (1984)

protocol

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Goldie goes to Washington.

Sunny Davis (Goldie Hawn) works as a cocktail waitress at a Washington D.C. bar, who one evening while driving home from work, she notices a crowd of media people surrounding an event where foreign dignitaries are leaving a dinner gala, which piques her curiosity enough to pull over and get out to see it in person. Once she’s in the crowd she rubs against another man and feels what she thinks is a gun and she accuses him of such, which gets the man to take the gun out and point it at the visiting Emir (Richard Romanus) from the country of El Othar. When Sunny sees this she tackles the would-be assassin and becomes an instant American hero in the process. Overnight she becomes the top of every news story. Politicians in Washington begin to believe she’d be an asset and offer her a position within the protocol department in government. She readily accepts as it pays more than her old waitress job, but it comes with a catch. The US wants to establish a military base on the country run by the Emir whose life Sunny saved, but in order to achieve this deal they offer Sunny to become another one of the Emir’s wives without her knowledge.

This was the second attempt at political satire for screenwriter Buck Henry who did First Family 4 years earlier, which I thought was bad enough, but this thing manages to be even worse. The majority of the problem is that politics and government can be very messy and if one is going to analyze the topic in any type of realistic way then it needs to get messy and dirty as well and yet this movie glosses over all of the negative aspects and tries to make American politics uplifting and inspiring, which might’ve worked in the 30’s and 40’s, but in this more cynical age it comes-off as corny and ill-conceived.

The political and media landscape has changed so drastically that most viewers living today will find the humor to be completely unrelatable. Politics today, for better or worse, has become highly divisive, so having a benign President that everyone supports such as here seems almost like a fairy tale. The satirical jabs at the news media will also prove hollow as we no longer live in a world where the mainstream press as all the clout and instead now takes a backseat to social media and thus making the majority of the jokes here quite dated. The way it portrays Muslims will also be considered problematic and even back then while it was being filmed it was protested by the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee over what they felt was a disrespectful approach to Islam.

Goldie is certainly likable, but her character is blah and poorly defined. Outside of living with two gay guys there’s nothing unique about her and the viewer gets no sense of what makes her tick. A good example of this is when she gets offered the position she isn’t even sure what the word protocol means and has to look it up in a dictionary and yet after she gets the job she quickly becomes an expert on all the protocol by-laws. This was apparently because she read-up on all the literature she was given, but this isn’t shown making her newfound sudden expertise come-off as weird and hard to explain. The fish-out-of-water concept really needed to be played-up more. There are a few comically awkward moments, but in order to make it consistently funny it needed to continue through the whole movie.

The fact that she becomes so famous over preventing the assassination of the leader of a foreign (fictional) nation that most people probably couldn’t find on a map didn’t make sense. If she had saved a popular President’s life then I could see everybody getting excited about it, but doing it for a foreign dignitary might be enough for a ‘feel-good’ story, but that would most likely be it. Also, there’s no concept of the 15-minutes of fame here. Even if she did become an overnight sensation it would only have lasted until the next news cycle when another media hero would replace her and yet this movie has her remaining popular for months and even years later.

What really killed it for me though was the Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-like ending, which I found to be utterly nauseating. For political satire, if you can even call this that, it fails on all levels. Being There on the other-hand is an example of how to do it right, which this thing unfortunately doesn’t even come close to.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

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