Having scored record ratings with a movie adaptation of “Killing Lincoln,” the first in Bill O’Reilly’s “Fox News clearly doesn’t pay me enough” book series, National Geographic Channel’s decision to air “Killing Kennedy” timed to the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination was a no-brainer. That’s also an apt description of this once-over-lightly treatment, which alternates between Kennedy and Oswald with nary a fresh beat, dutifully replicating scenes with all the finesse of reality-show reenactments. Rob Lowe and Ginnifer Goodwin lend the project star power as John and Jackie Kennedy, but the overall approach amounts to hair-styling and costume design in search of an actual movie.
Too often feeling like a book report version of history (especially compared to the numerous productions based on this material, most recently the miniseries “The Kennedys”), the movie races through JFK’s election, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis and his notorious “woman problem” (as brother Bobby puts it) before that fateful day in Dallas.
At the same time, the narrative tracks young Lee Harvey Oswald (Will Rothhaar) as he tries to defect to the Soviet Union, lands Russian bride Marina (Michelle Trachtenberg, frequently subtitled, and otherwise sounding a lot like Natasha Fatale), and struggles to hold a job, what with the FBI hounding him for being a Marxist. A final, post-assassination portion involves the manhunt for Oswald, as well as his in-custody execution by Jack Ruby (Casey Siemaszko).
Written by Kelly Masterson and directed by Nelson McCormick, “Killing Kennedy” is so earnest and episodic as to sap any dramatic life from the movie, which weaves in selected news footage to enhance its sense of authenticity. Virtually all the dialogue is stiff and on the nose, and despite a parental-advisory warning, the whole thing seems calibrated to middle-schoolers wondering who this Kennedy guy is.
Joining a long roster of those who have portrayed JFK, Lowe — who brought considerably more verve to convicted killer Drew Peterson in a recent Lifetime movie — settles for an intermittent accent (a description that applies equally to Goodwin), without conveying any of the president’s charisma. Then again, the entire cast is about as animated as the figures in Disney World’s Hall of Presidents.
For all its shortcomings, “Killing Kennedy” will still probably deliver by NatGeo standards, thanks to the combination of O’Reilly’s incessant tub-thumping for his bestselling books and the project’s status as a rare scripted addition to November’s JFK-a-palooza.
“Dallas no good,” Marina complains to Lee, wondering why they settled in such an inhospitable town.
Da. And “Killing Kennedy” not much better.