Saturday, March 12, 2011

FILM REVIEW: REAGAN RETURNS: Reagans, Al Qaeda and Beans…Oh My!

Joseph Bellamy
By Joseph James Bellamy

If you had told me yesterday that a smart political satire could also be a Super-heroic fantasy romp, I wouldn’t have believed you. Today I know better. This is, it turns out, only one of the unbelievable, and unbelievably entertaining elements to Reagan Returns,  the 36 min. short from Detroit-based independent film maker Robert P. Young that will be screening as part of the REEL FEST 3.

As the film opens, we meet the down-and-out but proud Fred (Emanuel Ward) and the fabulously frenetic Malcolm (Wilbert Berthaud), our homeless protagonists. The two quickly assume identities that give a wink and nod to a certain duo known for their dynamics. When the titular dead president (a spot-on pantomime by Charlie Murphy), whom Fred is convinced is his father, rises from his final resting place to strike the big-daddy of all dirty deals, it falls to Black-Man and Rushon to set things right.

What follows is a fun and funny race to save the world. The viewer, riding shotgun with the cracked-crusaders, is faced with the united evils of a weed-smoking, sex-crazed Osama bin Laden (Paul Drechsler-Martell and one HELL of a fake beard), a Ronald Reagan reanimated by magical stem-cell jelly beans, and the mysterious benefactor that brought them together. On their quest to save the day, Black-Man and Rushon are joined by the recently ousted G.W. Bush (Todd Tetreault) who was lured out of the presidency with a giant bag of cocaine. As they battle their way through Osama’s jelly bean jihadists to confront Reagan and his secret masters, it is revealed that the Teflon president had been revived by Mrs. Just-Say-No herself (Susan Lane), and her new lover, Agent Toombs (Nathan Turner), creator of the aforementioned techno-mystical morsels. The genre-splicing stew is liberally and lovingly flavored with plenty of well-executed kung-foolery, including a final throw-down show-down with the man behind it all (hint, his name rhymes with flawed ham from Spain), and a driving hip-hop score. The whole experiment is topped off with the very tasteful application of the few special effects the budget allowed.

As enjoyable as the two wannabe superheroes, the laughably inappropriate Arab stereotyping, and Mr. Murphy’s mastery of Reagan’s mannerisms are to watch, the film’s real gems are the pearls of humor that formed around grains of thoughtful observation. Whether it’s the moment Reagan is disgusted to find out he was resurrected using stem cells and magic (both of which offend his ‘family values’,) the discussion of how revealing Osama Bin Laden to be a woman will affect radical/fundamentalist Muslims the recognition of the threat posed by a mixed-race love-child to a conservative politician in the sixties, or the former first lady’s vanity-induced death by overdose of magic jelly-beans, Young has made sure that the fun and games serves a purpose. Regarding Osama being a woman… I’m not even getting into it, just SEE it.

Each gag reminds us of the need for vigilance and decency in the way we govern our nation and ourselves. Young, (who wrote, produced, and directed) also takes a moment to give us a glimpse at hope in the form of a speech given by Tetreault’s G.W. Bush that was far more inspiring and intelligible than anything ever said by ‘Dubbya’ himself.

In terms of the technical execution of the film, what small stumbling blocks the production encounters are vastly outweighed by the sheer enjoyment of the project as a whole. I see this film as Young’s attempt, a successful one at that, to get the viewer’s head in the geo-political game by placing his tongue in his cheek and broaching some potentially ugly subjects with a smiling face. Yesterday, I thought the very idea of this film was unbelievable. Today, I believe that Robert Young is among the freshest voices in independent film, and you'll believe it too, when Reagan Returns!

Film: "Reagan Returns"
Director: Robert P. Young
Film's Website:

Review written by Joseph James Bellamy
Editor: Rod Webber
Published by Reel Zine
© Reel Zine 2011

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