|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 01 June 2004|
There are some films that you see and can barely remember afterwards. 'Protocol' fits into this category--and rewatching it 15 years after its initial release, this is perfectly understandable. The movie was lightweight fluff masquerading as political comedy at the time it was made. Seen in 1999, its principal value would seem to be as an illustration of what big-budget '80s fluff looked like.
Goldie Hawn plays Sunny Davis, a Washington, D.C. cocktail waitress who happens to be in the right place at the right time to foil an assassination attempt on a visiting Arab head of state. The na•ve, straightforward Sunny becomes an instant media darling. The Emir is also much taken with her and, since his tiny country is of strategic importance to U.S. foreign policy, employees of the State Department seek to lure Sunny into the Emir's reach by offering her a job in with the Office of Protocol.
Apart from the dismal stereotyping of Arabs (it is to the shame of other movies, not to the credit of this one, that far worse has been seen elsewhere), 'Protocol' is inoffensive but mostly uninspired. Screenwriter Buck Henry has shown genius elsewhere but seems to be treading water here--once in awhile, someone gets an amusing line, but the movie is so eager to appear nonpartisan that it can't talk about anything real. Director Herb Ross knows how to make women look glamorous and the swank soirees glitter appropriately, but his grasp of working-class life is so sketchy that the contrast between Sunny's old and new worlds doesn't play. Nobody here believes in the heart-of-gold squalor she lives in or the bucolic storybook home she hails from anyway.
The DVD faithfully captures the film's glossy, pretty look throughout, but the sound mix is a bit odd in places. In Chapter 7, for example, no sooner do we turn up the volume in order to hear the soft-spoken dialogue than we're blasted by a marching band.
Hawn plays pretty much the same character she essayed in 'Private Benjamin'--ditzy but capable of gutsiness and seriousness when the chips are down, able to assert herself without (heaven forfend) ever appearing anything other than 120% feminine. When Sunny starts quoting the U.S. Constitution in the finale, it's a shock. We can agree with Sunny and the filmmakers that the Constitution is indeed a document worthy of respect--but nothing 'Protocol' does justifies invoking it.