Jan 16, 2020
Movies that Predicted Trump: My Fellow Americans (1996)
It’s now been one month since Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States, and already his standing with the public is at an all-time low. In addition, people are withdrawing from his cabinet or from nominations for posts in his cabinet like crazy. Not to mention that reports of hacking from Russia during the election keep cropping up. One can’t help but laugh at the turmoil of the presidency of a candidate that promised to “Make America Great Again”.
This led me to think of a comedy involving Presidents called My Fellow Americans.
Our story begins by explaining, via newscasts, the rivalry between Republican Ohio Senator Russel Kramer (Jack Lemmon) and his nemesis, Democratic Indiana Governor Matt Douglas (James Garner). The newscasts go onto say that Kramer has just beaten Douglas in the recent presidential election.
Four years and the next election later, Douglas prevents Kramer from getting a second term by being voted in President himself. Another four years after that, and Douglas’s aims for re-election are curtailed by the new President (and Kramer’s former Vice President) William Haney (Dan Aykroyd). Haney’s victory is slightly soured by his Dan Quayle-esque Vice President Ted Matthews (John Heard).
Three years into Haney’s term, Kramer is attending various functions, one of which leads to him dancing with someone dressed in a panda suit. Douglas, meanwhile, is going through a divorce and sleeping with the editor of his upcoming book (Marg Helgenberger). He also proves that he’s a great boss to the secret service agents still assigned to him by telling them to take a night off and “rent In the Line of Fire again.”
While Kramer and Douglas reluctantly attend the funeral of one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (and whisper insults to each other during the burial), Haney is informed by his Chief of Staff Carl Witnaur (Bradley Whitford) that the Democrats have become aware of “Olympia”, the code word for a series of bribes from defense contractor Charlie Reynolds (James Rebhorn) to Haney during his Vice President days. Witnaur suggests simply framing Kramer, even though he knows nothing about it. Haney, after some hesitation, agrees, just in time to see Matthews embarrass himself and Haney’s administration on TV again.
Later, at another gathering, Douglas is brought up to speed on Olympia by Democratic National Committee chairman Joe Hollis (Wilford Brimley). He encourages Douglas to use an investigation into this as a prelude for running for the Oval Office again. Douglas agrees, as doing so will piss off both Kramer and Haney. Likewise, Kramer, attending the gala with his wife Margaret (Lauren Bacall), learns of Olympia and launches his own investigation as well.
Both Kramer and Douglas separately set up meetings with Reynolds to ask “WTF?” But Douglas, following a book fair where Kramer pisses him off with his cookbook, finds Reynolds dead in his car before their meeting can begin. Kramer encounters Douglas and the corpse and both agree to discuss matters at Kramer’s home, unaware that they’re being monitored by NSA Colonel Paul Tanner (Everett McGill).
Kramer and Douglas are comparing notes when Tanner arrives, claiming that Haney has asked them to meet him at Camp David. On the flight there, Douglas realizes that such a trip is taking longer than it should. When the pilots inform them that they weren’t told to go to Camp David, the former Presidents force them to land. Kramer and Douglas disembark and bitch some more before realizing that they should force the pilots to take them back to the White House. But their transport explodes before they can do that.
Now stranded in the middle of nowhere, Douglas and Kramer agree that they have to stick together, since someone clearly wants to kill them. Kramer convinces Douglas that they should go to Kramer’s Presidential Library in Ohio, which has records that can prove Haney’s connection with Reynolds.
They find themselves at a truck stop where a lady offers them a ride if Kramer gives her his priceless watch, a gift from Gorbachev. During the ride, as Kramer mourns his watch, the driver informs our former Presidents that she’s hauling farm equipment. Soon, a helicopter appears, shining its light on the truck. The lady stops and excuses herself before Kramer and Douglas step out as well. They become confused when the helicopter announces it’s from the Department of Immigration. At that moment, the “farm equipment” is revealed to be Spanish-speaking illegal immigrants who all pop out and go every which way (and Trump thinks some silly wall will stop this?).
But the Immigration chopper is ordered to take a hike by another government chopper that fires a missile at it to make its point. Kramer and Douglas join the swarm of immigrants until that chopper gives up.
Fortunately, they soon find a train bound for Cleveland. Pretending to be impersonators of the presidents they really are so they can blend in with the Elvis impersonator who told them about the train, Kramer and Douglas meet many ordinary Americans and get a first hand account of how their terms affected them. Kramer realizes that people didn’t like his off-quoted “Our dreams are like our children” speech, while Douglas meets up with a Marilyn Monroe impersonator who says she slept with the real Douglas and that the experience, like his term in office, was nothing special.
But the train trip is cut short as Tanner’s men catch up with it. This leads to a funny bit with Kramer and Douglas jumping off a fast-moving train. As they attempt to find civilization again, Douglas attempts to offer an olive branch (of sorts) by comparing notes with Kramer about what they liked about their times in the White House.
They then find quite the patriotic family camping out in the area. These people agree to take our former Presidents to Ohio, but Douglas and Kramer become annoyed when they keep stopping to take pictures or to rest. This leads to the couple expressing dissatisfaction with how people like themselves are viewed and, before you know it, Kramer and Douglas are on foot again.
Finally, after eluding Tanner’s men again, they get transportation to the library by taking part in a gay pride parade. One of the participants (Jeff Yagher), dressed like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, arranges for friends to take the former Presidents there via motorcycle.
At the library, Douglas is annoyed with what’s basically Kramer’s shrine to himself. This includes a gift shop that sells a Kramer doll that, once you pull the string in the back, states “Our dreams are like our children” as well as “Don’t you fall into the trap! Democrats are full of crap!” (at least the doll doesn’t say “You’re fired!”).
But the records they came to the library to find turn out to have been messed with. They also get a message from a library guard stating that Witnaur had a meeting with Reynolds. With Hollis’s help, the former Presidents kidnap Witnaur (just as he’s getting some nookie on—some people are so inconsiderate). The trio record Witnaur’s admission of trying to frame Kramer for Olympia but he denies any knowledge about the attempt on their lives.
With Tanner clearly a loose cannon (remind you of someone who currently resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave?), Douglas convinces Kramer that the next step is to go to the White House to confront Haney. He also believes this will begin to make up for their poor decisions while in the Oval Office.
Our former Presidents get into the White House thanks to the one person they always loved there, the Executive Chef Rita (Esther Rolle). They decide to get to Haney and evade Tanner by actually giving the tour of the White House to a group of tourists. This funny, if very brief, tour is ended after Tanner manages to corner them into a guest room. There, they turn on the TV and see that Haney is paying tribute to World War II Dutch Resistance fighters on the South Lawn. They also see that Tanner has already told the press that the chopper they were on earlier crashed, with the former Presidents on board.
As Tanner and his men try to break into the room, Kramer begins looking for a secret passageway he heard about called (imaginatively enough) the Kennedy Room. This triggers a memory for Douglas as he quickly shows Kramer where said room is located, and they go darting below the White House. But Tanner finds them, but Kramer quickly knocks him out, claiming he has to change his shorts afterward (that’s our hero!).
But the tunnel ends up leading to the North Lawn. Fortunately, there are horses close by that Douglas and Kramer quickly take and ride to their destination. Tanner radios snipers claiming that there are intruders and to shoot them down. As Haney gives his speech, Tanner himself is shot by one of the snipers after that sniper looks at who he’s being ordered to kill.
As it turns out, said sniper is the same guy from the parade who set the former presidents up with their motorcycle trip.
Kramer and Douglas talk to Haney at the Oval Office. Although Haney didn’t know about Tanner’s plans to kill them, he agrees to resign. As Kramer, Douglas, and Rita laugh at the fact that Matthews is now President, the former Presidents put two and two together and realize that the only way a dimwit like him could get in the Oval Office is if Haney was assassinated or if he resigned.
Having just been sworn in, Matthews is preparing to address the country when Kramer and Douglas confront him. Matthews confesses that he knew Haney would take any blame and that any deaths can now be pinned on Tanner. He then gloats that he’s not the idiot people think he is, mispronouncing the word ‘facade’ in the process.
After Matthews leaves, Douglas reveals to Kramer that he recorded Matthews’s words. They also grudgingly confess that their adventure has made them less pissed off at the sight of each other (awww….).
Another news broadcast, nine months later, states that Matthews has begun his prison sentence for his crimes. It’s also announced that Douglas and Kramer will be running on the same ticket as independents in the upcoming election. But it hasn’t been revealed who will be President and who will be Vice President. The two give smiles for the camera for a few moments before Douglas tosses a dollar on the floor. Like a fish with a worm, Kramer goes for it, giving Douglas an opening to address the public with (what else?) “My Fellow Americans.”
The film itself is a nice comedy with two legends in that field delightfully facing off. My only real complaint is that Bacall, a legend herself, has far too little to do here.
In terms of how the movie predicted Trump, it did so in three ways. It gave us a president who just loves money (Kramer), another who thinks nothing of romancing other women even though he’s married (Douglas), and a third who has such a narrow grasp of common sense (Matthews) its amazing he’s now in the Oval Office.