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Norma Jean, Jack, and Me

Norma Jean, Jack, and Me" has the allure of a mental game most everyone's played before: What would Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy be like now if they'd lived? Alas, the particular daydream scenario on display here is hardly the most imaginative or incisive that one could devise. Rapidly losing steam once its basic conceit is established, unengaging low-budgeter's limitations will go down easier on the small screen, where pic could earn some exposure as a passable curio.

With:
Norma Jean ..... Sally Kirkland Jack ..... Michael Murphy Rob ..... Kai Lennox Newscaster ..... Dan Mandehr Helicopter Pilot ..... David De Vos

Norma Jean, Jack, and Me” has the allure of a mental game most everyone’s played before: What would Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy be like now if they’d lived? Alas, the particular daydream scenario on display here is hardly the most imaginative or incisive that one could devise. Rapidly losing steam once its basic conceit is established, unengaging low-budgeter’s limitations will go down easier on the small screen, where pic could earn some exposure as a passable curio.

Young, presumably shipwrecked Rob (Kai Lennox) washes onto a nameless Caribbean isle with a briefcase full of cash and dope; his appearance sends a surprised woman screaming homeward. Turns out the lady is MM herself (Sally Kirkland), still giggly-undulatory and neurotic after all these years; she’s been in boozy hiding with ex-prez mate (Michael Murphy) since they both decided to exit the public spotlight.

JFK wants to eliminate the unwelcome guest to protect their top-secret “retreat” (one curiously lacking servants or bodyguards); she wants a stay of execution at least long enough to give her rusty seductive charms some exercise. Not helping his own cause, Rob shrugs, “She’s too old for me.”

Less-than-sparkling dialogue drops names and reviews familiar celeb pasts while Rob demonstrates how crassly self-interested Today’s Youth have become. Rote yuks are had when the famous duo re-ignite their dormant sex life (“Jack is back, and I’m on my back!”). Scant credibility, let alone excitement, arises as they briefly consider returning to “a nation in need of a miracle,” or when Rob gets inspired to make a Just Say No to Drugs (and drug money) parting gesture.

Semi-comic treatment of MM and JFK is skin-deep: She’s somewhat embarrassingly unaware that her helpless-little-sexpot act doesn’t fly at 60 -something, while he’s a crusty, sometimes cranky exemplar of graying New England aristocracy.

Kirkland does nail the character’s comic absurdity and pathos; if script had as much flamboyant punch as the numerous va-voom gowns she sashays around in, the performance might have comprised a memorable homage.

Murphy makes less of an impression; looking more like Jimmy Carter than a Kennedy, he focuses effort on an old-money accent but seems understandably lukewarm about applying much more to the weak text. Lennox does little to lend his generic Gen X stereotype redeeming charm, comic disbelief or sex appeal.

Both elder leads look rather too fit and unlined to suggest nearly four decades’ tropical sun and cocktail intake. As with everything else here, pic flirts with, but stops halfheartedly, sentimentally short of the subversive potential inherent in a more grotesque, black-comedically-realistic what-if depiction. (Imagine a returned-to-form John Waters playing this concept as a tabloid headline “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” meets “Gilligan’s Island” — hmm, could work, could work.)

Best aspect in very modest production package are handsome vacation postcard exterior views. Elsewhere, increasingly blah talkfest looks and feels like a filmed stage piece. Director, co-scenarist and TV producing-writing vet Cyrus Nowrasteh conjures little atmosphere or pace.

Norma Jean, Jack, and Me

Production: A New Path Pictures production in association with Maurice Singer. Produced by David De Vos. Executive producer, Singer. Co-producer, Paul Seydor. Directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh. Screenplay, Nowrasteh, James Trivers, based on a short story by Trivers.

Crew: Camera (color), Nils Erickson; editor, Paul Seydor; music, Trivers, Elizabeth Myers; production designer, Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh; set decorator, Matthew T. Welch; costume designer, Kristen Anacker; sound, Frederick Critchlow; assistant director, Ted Garvey; casting, Rosemary Welden. Reviewed at Cinequest San Jose Film Festival, March 3, 2000. Running time: 95 MIN.

With: Norma Jean ..... Sally Kirkland Jack ..... Michael Murphy Rob ..... Kai Lennox Newscaster ..... Dan Mandehr Helicopter Pilot ..... David De Vos

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