DC 9/11: Time of Crisis (2003) (part 1 of 2)
Anyone who knows me will say I’m about the least political person on the planet. However, that’s not entirely accurate. I do have political beliefs, and strong ones at that. I just choose not to talk about them. Because arguing about politics, as everybody knows, is a complete and utter waste of time. I mean, have you ever seen a political argument actually change anybody’s mind? “Hey, you’re right! I should totally be a Republican, after all!”
Much like religious beliefs, political beliefs are so deeply held—and so often for completely illogical reasons—that they can form the core of a person’s identity. But unlike religious beliefs, it’s somehow become okay to call someone an idiot and a moron for their political leanings. And that’s why I tend to stay away from all discussion of politics, either online or off.
So you’re probably wondering why I’d even think of reviewing a movie about 9/11. And that, sadly, just shows how far the political climate in this country has deteriorated in the last five years. I mean, if there’s one event that at the time I never thought anyone in a million years would ever use for political gain, it’s the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
I honestly haven’t given that day much thought over the last five years. I never shared the inclination of the mainstream media (and the public at large) to overhype, overplay, overexpose, and overreact to those events. I’ll never use the phrase “the terrorists will have won”, but incessantly talking about the attacks in that exalted, reverent, awestruck way that so many do is, in some small way, giving al-Qaeda and their sympathizers exactly what they want.
What the public badly needed at the time of 9/11, and still badly needs today, is some sense of perspective. Which, of course, has never happened. For example, if any major news source ever mentioned that this country would need to endure five 9/11-type events in a year to even come close to the number of people who die in drunk driving accidents annually, I never heard them say it. Instead, it’s always been about the “unprecedented bloodshed”, and the “sheer magnitude” of the “unimaginable horror”, etc, etc, etc.
The attacks were of course an atrocity. And we can all take solace that no matter how bad things get for us in our daily lives, they’ll never be as horrible as the experiences of those thousands of victims. But in my mind, there was never much sense in morbidly dwelling on it all. I took the time to mourn the tragedy, and then I got on with life.
But in a small, nearly unconscious way, this website primarily exists because of those events. Considering I mostly make crude jokes about bad movies, I know that’s a stretch. Mainly, it’s because in the months after 9/11, I had an incredible feeling of uncertainty about the future. If terrorists could wreak this much destruction in a single day, what would they do next? What horrors could they unleash in a year? In five years? Ten? If you had even so much as mentioned the year 2006 to me back then, I would have been filled with unspeakable dread.
My true passion has always been writing, but up until then, I only had a handful of unfinished short stories and aborted novels to my name. 9/11 made me realize there was no point in continuing to put things off for a future that might never arrive. Of course, this was just as true before 9/11 as it was after; But 9/11 was a stark reminder, the likes of which my generation had never really seen.
So I jumped in with both feet and started the Agony Booth. I decided to write about bad movies because that was the easiest thing to do. (Believe me, the reviews here might go on for thousands of words, and the main ingredients are blood, sweat, tears, and a pound of flesh each, but they’re a breeze compared to writing a novel. Or attempting to write a novel, as the case may be.)
So here we are, five years later. And yeah, I know that as far as websites go (and even as far as websites making fun of bad movies go), this one is pretty insignificant. But I felt it was appropriate to reflect upon the fifth anniversary of 9/11 in my own way. And while other sites will revisit the memories, the horrors, the highs and lows, here at the Agony Booth, I can think of no better way to mark the occasion than to review the single worst film ever made about those events: DC 9/11: Time of Crisis.
Like those sterling examples of moviemaking The Day Reagan Was Shot and Omen IV: The Awakening, this TV movie is a “Showtime Original”. And while the debate currently still rages as to whether or not it’s “too soon” for films like United 93 or World Trade Center, in the end, DC 9/11: Time of Crisis has them both beat by three years.
Personally, I’m not sure if it’s still too soon for a 9/11 movie. While I do think the historical significance of the event should be explored, I’m reminded that we still haven’t caught the bastard yet. And in a cave somewhere, someone’s mighty smug that big Hollywood studios are making movies about the events he set in motion.
Of course, none of that applies at all to DC 9/11: Time of Crisis. While United 93 and its ilk are often called difficult to watch because of how realistic and emotional they are, DC 9/11 has none of those failings. This film carries about as much weight and substance as an episode of The Simple Life. It’s like the Cheesy Puffs of 9/11 movies.
There’s a reason for that, and his name is Lionel Chetwynd. Chetwynd is pretty much the go-to screenwriter for all patriotic, pro-government films. He’s made no attempt to hide his conservative ideals, writing scripts for films like Kissinger & Nixon, Ruby Ridge: An American Tragedy, Tom Clancy’s Netforce, Ike: Countdown to D-Day, several biblical films, and most recently, the “answer” to Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, a little-seen documentary called Celsius 41.11.
Chetwynd wrote the script for DC 9/11 after sitting with President Bush and briefly discussing the attacks. Which is probably why, to date, this is the only 9/11 film to actually feature an actor portraying President Bush. In fact, Bush is the central character of the film, which covers his experiences in the eight days following the attacks, culminating in Bush’s emotional speech to Congress that many regard as the high point of his presidency.
Other reviewers have questioned the accuracy of the film, but I have yet to hear any specifics about what it gets wrong. It seems the chief complaint is the dialogue is too staid and rehearsed, and the president too eloquent, especially under the circumstances. I won’t really pick that nit, because I wasn’t there, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s hardly anything new. Pretty much any docudrama will fudge things when it comes to the actual words spoken at the time.
No, what really kills this film is that its sole intent is to present Bush and his administration in a glowing light. Look, I’m not expecting a hatchet job here. No one criticized Oliver Stone for portraying those two firefighters in a glowing light, after all. But in DC 9/11, Bush has been sanctified and beatified to a degree where it’s impossible to relate to him as a human being. This approach robs the story of all human conflict, and thus, all sense of drama.
At several points in the film, Bush is depicted as being ridiculously on top of things. There’s a moment where an advisor spews out a variety of similar-sounding Muslim names, and Bush instantly recognizes the names and knows they’re members of al-Qaeda. And this scene takes place on the day of the attack!
During discussions about Afghanistan, Bush even says, “Ah, Massoud! He’s the leader of the Northern Alliance!” Even if you love the guy, you have to admit this is pushing it. (The entire thing reminds me of that SNL sketch where Phil Hartman played a Ronald Reagan who was secretly the scheming mastermind behind everything. Like, he would play the nice, genial, senile old man when a girl scout came to visit, but as soon as she was out of the room he would scream at his staff, “Back to work!!“)
And so, the movie is hopelessly dull. Who knew that the person with the least interesting experiences over those eight days would be President Bush himself? The film is almost entirely composed of talking heads: Cabinet members, congressmen, and speechwriters sit around large oak conference tables, and occasionally have video conference calls on large TV screens, and debate the appropriate response to the attacks. And the majority of these conversations revolve around minutiae that I doubt the filmmakers even really cared about.
And for those rare scenes where something moving or powerful actually does happen, it’s severely diluted by the fact that you already know all about it. You’ve either read about it in the papers, or witnessed it with your own eyes on live TV. For instance, Bush’s mantra about not wanting to “pound sand” by lobbing cruise missiles into tents has got to be repeated about five or six times here, as if it were some big revelation.
It’s incredible that someone could make a film this boring about the events of 9/11. DC 9/11 falls into the rare “endurance test” category of films for me. Roughly thirty minutes into it, I was ready for it to end, and the movie is more than two hours long. Not a good sign.
In fact, the only entertainment to be had came from playing Spot the Hey, It’s That Guy!, where I was constantly surprised by which character actor would show up next. And in this film, Spot the Hey, It’s That Guy! has an added extra level of mirth, because all of the That Guy!s are playing well-known public figures.
(And most of the characters are introduced via captions that are, no joke, spelled out in the exact same font as the credits for 24 [!]. This provides yet another level of entertainment, once you realize who’s in the cast.)
The biggest That Guy! is of course Timothy Bottoms, who plays President Bush. He’s been in movies since 1971 (his first big role was in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show, but I’ll always know him best as a psychopath who blows up rollercoasters in a 1977 disaster flick appropriately titled Rollercoaster). But his most notable credit of late outside of this movie is when he played… George W. Bush. Yep, he’s the same guy who played Bush on the farcical Comedy Central sitcom That’s My Bush!, which was canceled not long before the attacks. (Which didn’t stop Bottoms from reprising the role in a brief appearance in 2002’s Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course, featuring the late Steve Irwin.)
Frankly, I’m amazed they even considered Bottoms for DC 9/11. I’m guessing he really impressed them in the auditions, because he certainly seems capable of a sincere portrayal of Bush, given good material. Of course that’s only a guess, because he doesn’t get anything resembling good material here. But he does okay with what he’s given. There are bits of caricature here and there, but considering how often Bush himself lapses into self-caricature, that’s understandable.
Next up on the Spot the Hey, It’s That Guy! cavalcade, and I swear I’m not making this up, George Takei [!] as Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta [!!]. To be honest, Takei has about three lines in the whole movie. But at this point, he’s an actor who merely has to show his face to draw a positive reaction. The only other actor I can say that about is Christopher Walken. Unlike Walken, Takei doesn’t actually have talent, but I would be very open to him doing a few Walken-esque cameos (where he shows up for one scene, gives the most bizarre speech in the movie, and promptly exits) in the future.
Next up on Spot the Hey, It’s That Guy!, or in this case, Spot the Hey, It’s That Gal!, it’s Penny Johnson Jerald [!] as National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice [!!]. Most of you will know Penny Johnson Jerald as Sherry Palmer from 24, or as Kasidy Yates, Sisko’s love interest on Deep Space Nine. I don’t know if she pulls off the Rice impression very well here, but then again, it doesn’t appear she’s really trying. I mean, she didn’t even bother to put those crazy swoops in her hair.
Unfortunately, her presence means the whole time I’m watching this movie, I’m imagining Condoleezza Rice is secretly plotting against the President, and we only have a few hours to stop her, and she’s somehow involved in the 9/11 attacks. Hey, she did get the “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the US” memo.
(Late breaking news! It appears Penny Johnson Jerald is again going to play Condoleezza Rice in a TV movie. This time, in the upcoming ABC miniseries Path to 9/11. That is, if it actually ends up airing. At the time of this writing, it’s currently drawing fire for some purported inaccuracies, so we’ll just wait and see what happens. But hey, if Bottoms can carve out a career playing Bush, then I see no problem with Penny becoming the definitive Condi Rice.
Oddly enough, the screenwriter behind Path to 9/11 is Cyrus Nowrasteh, the same guy who wrote and directed the aforementioned The Day Reagan Was Shot, a film that seems dedicated to proving that Reagan’s cabinet was filled with absolute buffoons at the time. And now he’s being accused of making Clinton’s cabinet look like absolute buffoons. So go figure.)