The assassination of President John F. Kennedy probably ranks as the most traumatic and galvanizing moment in the history of the baby boomer experience.
Peter Landesman's dramatic recreation of that horrific event of Nov. 22, 1963, need only scratch the surface of the boomers' collective consciousness to unleash the still-fresh memories of the shock and sorrow that gripped the nation on that day almost 50 years ago.
Contact information ( * required )
Starring: Zac Efron, Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton, Jacki Weaver, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeremy Strong
Directed by: Peter Landesman
Other: An Exclusive Releasing release. Rated PG-13 for violence, language, smoking. 93 minutes
Yet, the only element in "Parkland" that evokes a genuine resurrection of these feelings occurs when CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, as he did in 1963, pronounces Kennedy dead by an assassin's bullet in Dallas' Dealey Plaza.
The rest of "Parkland" -- the name of the Texas hospital where the still-breathing president was taken for emergency treatment -- comes off as a moribund, tasteless rehash of the events following the shooting, including some major miscasting and Landesman's less-than-inspired direction.
The results come close to those cheesy re-enactments we see during "true crime" documentaries on Oxygen and other cable channels.
It doesn't help authenticity when "High School Musical" star Zac Efron plays the emergency room doctor on call when Kennedy comes in, the back of his head missing, parts of his skull clutched by Kat Steffens' Jackie Kennedy, covered in blood and suffering from obvious shock.
To be fair, all the events in "Parkland," including the bystanders, relatives and officials caught up in them, are taken straight from "Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy," a nonfiction book by famed prosecutor and "Helter Skelter" author Vincent Bugliosi, a legal and journalistic force of nature.
Bugliosi doesn't dabble in the conspiracy theories advanced by countless critics of the Warren Commission that certified Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and without aid from the CIA, mafia, cops and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson.
(As an aside, my uncle, James H. Fetzer, a retired philosophy professor from the University of Minnesota at Duluth, has written books such as "Assassination Science" and "Murder in Dealey Plaza" that challenge the official findings. I think he will suffer a conniption fit when he sees this movie.)
"Parkland" is not about how or why the assassination was carried out, but about all the people swept up in its aftermath.
Paul Giamatti plays Dallas businessman Abraham Zapruder, and he provides "Parkland" with its most potent performance. Zapruder is the man who filmed the assassination with a Super 8 camera, and we are watching Giamatti's face, not the presidential motorcade, as the bullets ring out.
"This wasn't supposed to happen!" mutters Forrest Sorrels, a Secret Service agent played by Billy Bob Thornton. Did the real Sorrels talk in hokey Hollywood clichés like this one?
Lee Harvey Oswald's mother Marguerite probably didn't sound like a demented Joan Crawford basking in delusions of grandeur, either. But that's how Jacki Weaver plays her, a scene-chewing mama contemplating her story rights fortune while insisting that her son -- fatally shot by Jack Ruby -- be buried with President Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery for his patriotism as a U.S. agent.
James Badge Dale plays Oswald's brother Robert, a seemingly decent man keenly aware of how Lee Harvey's actions will affect him.
Ron Livingston gives his FBI Agent James Hosty a sense of cluelessness you might expect from someone who failed to follow up investigating Lee Oswald when he had the opportunity.
Jackie Earle Haley, last seen taking over the role of nightmare killer Freddy Krueger, drops in as the priest who oversees the dying president's last rites as Marcia Gay Harden's nurse can do nothing more.
At times like this, you almost expect to see the Oxygen logo superimposed on the lower corner of the screen.