The Distinguished Gentlemen

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

A Florida con man named Thomas Jefferson Johnson uses the passing of the longtime Congressman from his district, Jeff Johnson (who died of a heart attack while having sex with his secretary), to get elected to Congress, where the money flows from lobbyists. Removing his first name and shortening his middle name he calls himself “Jeff” Johnson. He then manages to get on the ballot by pitching a seniors organization, the Silver Foxes, to nominate him as their candidate for office.

Once on the election ballot, he uses the dead Congressman’s old campaign material and runs a low budget campaign that appeals to name recognition, figuring most people do not pay much attention and simply vote for the “name you know.” He wins a slim victory and is off to Washington, a place where the “streets are lined with gold.”

Initially, the lucrative donations and campaign contributions roll in, but as he learns the nature of the con game in Washington D.C., he starts to see how the greed and corruption makes it difficult to address issues such as campaign finance reform, environmental protection, and the possibility that electric power companies may have a product that is giving kids in a small town cancer.

In trying to address these issues, Congressman Johnson finds himself double-crossed by Power and Industry chairman Dick Dodge. Johnson decides to fight back the only way he knows how: with a con. Johnson succeeds and exposes Dodge as corrupt. As the film ends, it appears likely that Johnson will be thrown out of Congress for the manner in which he was elected.

REVIEW:

On my Facebook page recently, a couple of my friends seem to be posting nothing but anti-Obama stuff. No worries, I won’t turn this into a political rant, but seeing all those negative postings made me question whether I should unfriend them or not and got me in the mood to watch a political comedy. First one that I thought of was The Distinguished Gentleman.

What is this about?

A small-time con man (Eddie Murphy) with a big name — Thomas Jefferson Johnson — decides to move from running a phone-sex scam to a more lucrative and legal operation. He sees his chance to weasel into politics when a congressman sharing his name dies unexpectedly in the midst of a reelection campaign. But while the junior lawmaker learns the political ropes, his interests move from money to romancing a beautiful lobbyist (Victoria Lowell).

What did I like?

Before the crash. Much has been made of how far Eddie Murphy’s career has fallen. This is far from best (or worst) work, but it is good to see him in his younger, funnier days. We even get that patented Murphy laugh a couple of times. Watching him makes you wonder what it was that caused his career to spiral downward, at least in terms of quality.

Hope. About halfway through the film, Murphy’s character makes a campaign promise that is eerily familiar to something Obama said when he was running for his first term. He was running on a platform of hope and change. I won’t say I liked or disliked this, but found it a bit of funny foreshadowing. Couple that with the other political slogans he was spurting out and I was laughing out loud.

Truth. If the last 10 yrs or so have taught us anything, it is that the people up in Washington are mostly corrupted individuals who think of nothing but money. Yes, there are a few good eggs, but the bad ones far outnumber them. This film brings to light how bad it was back in 1992. Some 20 yrs later, it has just gotten worse. I guess no one really paid attention.

What didn’t I like?

Quality. There is something about the quality of this film that didn’t quite sit right with me. It was like it was shot on sitcom style cameras, especially near the end, as opposed to movie quality cameras. I don’t know what the budget is on this thing, but if they couldn’t even afford decent cameras, then I really do question why they even bothered to make it.

Two times the not-so-fun. The first half of the film is a great, rambunctious, laugh riot, but when you get to the second half, it seem to get a bit too serious and changes tone. I guess that is what happens when you bring in a soap opera actress (Victoria Rowell). I’m not saying that she ruined everything, but it did seem that she came in and sapped all the fun out of the film.

Location. Is it me, or are all movie politicians from Florida or something Texas? This isn’t a flaw with the film, per se, but rather an observation that I had. Thinking back to something like Striptease, you will see what I mean. Maybe next politician in film will be from some random place like Idaho, perhaps?

If you’re looking for a film that will give you a couple of laughs on a Saturday afternoon, then The Distinguished Gentleman is right up you alley. I wouldn’t suggest it as your main event movie, though. There just isn’t enough to write home about. This isn’t a bad flick, just very, very average.

3 out of 5 stars

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