A Love Song for Bobby Long
dir. Gabel
Opens Fri Jan 28
Various Theaters

As he has gotten older and fatter, John Travolta's on-screen persona has evolved from a smirking pretty boy to a sad, bedraggled, smirking pretty boy. A few filmmakers (like Tarantino and Sonnenfeld) have used this otherwise noxious presence to stunning effect, and as a reward for their genius of foresight, Travolta, as recently as 2003, commanded $20 million a picture from the major studios.

The producers behind Travolta's latest vehicle, the low-budget A Love Song for Bobby Long, surely didn't pay $20 million for his services, though no matter what they paid they probably feel it was too much. Bobby Long proves once and for all (in case you still needed proof) that Travolta may be the worst actor who's ever enjoyed both a lucrative career and numerous critical accolades. As Bobby Long's titular character--a southern, alcoholic ex-academic with a sordid past--Travolta is a cartoon; a popeyed, bestubbled Ken doll who can barely string together two words in a passable drawl, let alone create a convincing and sympathetic character.

Writer/director Shainee Gabel's debut film follows Long, an ornery drunk squatting in a house that has just been inherited by Pursy Will (hot-as-ever Scarlett Johansson) from her dead mother. When Pursy comes to claim her prize, Bobby treats her like shit, but don't worry: Gabel employs plenty of pretty music and tender looks between arguments to let us know that inside Bobby's blustery Foghorn Leghorn chest lies a heart of gold. Soon, Pursy and Bobby are sharing the house, along with Lawson (the completely inoffensive newcomer Gabriel Macht), an ex-student of Bobby's who follows him around and gets drunk with him, claiming to be working on a book about his life. Outside of a feeble chemistry with Johansson's Pursy, Lawson serves no purpose whatsoever. Instead, the film revolves around a plot twist buried in Pursy and Bobby's shared histories. You'll figure out this twist within the first five minutes of the movie--and then spend the remaining two hours wondering how the man who starred in Look Who's Talking has more money in his left sock than you'll see in your entire life.