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'Saving Lincoln' review: What were they thinking?!

0.5 stars (out of four)

I kid you not: Someone in “Saving Lincoln” actually says, “Lincoln, I had been thinkin' ...,” and it's not meant to be funny.

Of course, this is a historical drama in which all of the sets are green screens, so good judgment is nowhere to be found. Many of the backdrops are supposedly authentic Civil War photographs. Needless to say,  this doesn't enhance the reality, particularly when characters in full color stand in front of black-and-white backgrounds.

As for the movie itself, it feels like someone remaking Steven Spielberg's “Lincoln” with the intent to botch nearly everything that the overrated Oscar nominee did well. Starring Tom Amandes as Honest Abe and familiar faces including Penelope Ann Miller (“Kindergarten Cop”) and Creed Bratton (“The Office”), “Saving Lincoln” features horrendous performances and feels patently false at every turn. The film purports to tell the true story of Ward Hill Lamon (Lea Coco), Lincoln's bodyguard and, apparently, trusty banjo player, who spends less time protecting the president than he does fiddling with the instrument and providing the music when Lincoln feels like singing “Jimmy Crack Corn.”

Sadly and ridiculously, Lamon, who uses words like “abscratchulate,” describes most of the film's events in voiceover, and we almost never see anything happen, whether it’s a battle or a development of a character and his or her relationship to anyone. Like Spielberg and his writer Tony Kushner, director/co-writer Salvador Litvak succeeds in depicting the loud, opposing viewpoints of the era and Lincoln's struggle to make the right decision at the right time. Otherwise, the cartoonish-yet-boring “Saving Lincoln” suggests that the president possessed a jolly, foolish arrogance about his own safety—his response to a threat on his life is, “Balderdash! No president was ever assassinated”—without any concern for the state the nation would be left in were something to happen to him.

He often comes off as insincere, unimpressive and needlessly stubborn about Lamon's admittedly insufficient efforts to protect him. Spielberg's “Lincoln” inspires a reaction such as, “I hope that's what he was like,” but the choppy “Saving Lincoln” inspires something closer to, “Eek, I hope that's not right.” Sitting through the film is like a movie-watching day in class that makes you miss the thrilling rhetoric of a lecture.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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