The Obama Effect is a sick, strange, and confused little film. To be perfectly honest, I didn't understand it. How could I?--it doesn't understand itself. It doesn't know if it's a comedy or a tragedy. The presence of Katt Williams suggests a comedy; he lies in a bed filled with six young women, and delivers a couple of gag-filled monologues. But the story is filled with parental neglect, life-threatening illnesses, and personal and financial despair.
John McCain and Barack Obama with a hot dog vendor, when he suddenly collapses to the ground. He wakes up in the hospital. His doctor tells him he's had a heart attack. He refuses to stay overnight, or tell his wife Molly (Vanessa Bell Calloway) what happened.
At home, he tells his grandmother that he's fallen off the path. She tells him God has left signs, and it's his purpose to find it, and that it's bright and glorious. That night, he sees an ad for Obama's campaign. Perhaps he's found what he's looking for.
John buys every sign, poster, and flier the campaign has to offer. He buys a jacket with Obama's likeness on it, an Obama sombrero, and an Obama hat with electric lights on it. He turns his house into a shrine to Obama. He sees Obama in the bathroom mirror and talks with him. When his boss tells him it's not appropriate to hang an election poster up in his office, he thinks Obama tells him to quit his job and spend every waking minute of every day to volunteering for the campaign. John commits himself to this, much to his wife's chagrin--they're broke now.
John spent all of their money on the campaign, and now he's unemployed. His only hope is to ask for a loan from his wife's rich but shady nephew, MLK (Katt Williams). There's two problems with this. 1) MLK is a republican, and 2) MLK hates him (with good reason), and doesn't owe him a dime.
Other complications serve as filler. John's daughter is having an affair in secret with his neighbor's child, and his son Jamal (Zab Judah) is squaring off against their son in an amateur boxing match. Jamal falls in with a shady boxing manager. None of this has anything to do with John's attempts to get Obama elected. In another sub plot, John's younger brother Tank gets out of prison, and tries to make good on his own.
Scenes that should rest on the cutting floor pad the running time even further. In one scene late in the film, John encounters a bum who recites the presidential inaugural address. John knows the bum, and tells him to go to the vet hospital. Does he get better, or does he die? We don't know, because we never see this character again. In another scene, Hector Santiago gets into a Hispanics vs. whites discussion with a random white man. Once more, this character is never seen before or after this intense exchange, and it doesn't advance the story.
The root problem of The Obama Effect is the screenplay. It's often a bad sign when a film has too many writers. This film has five screenwriters credited, and they all have one film to their name; The Obama Effect. One of the writers is Dutton himself, who also directs.
I respect Dutton as an actor; his scenes in Menace II Society still echo within me. But in this film, his performance is excessively theatrical. Prior to writing this, I looked up his biography. This seems to be a personal project, infused with passion and his political beliefs, and there are details of his life in the screenplay. But where he's a veteran actor, he lacks screenwriting discipline and experience. You've gotta get all of your characters on the stage--or at least referenced--within the first act, and at the end, tell us what happens to all of them. Furthermore, don't include any characters that don't advance the story.
Then there's the issue of John himself. He looks ridiculous in full Obama regalia, but the soundtrack dips into inspiration Yes We Can! pop songs, going along with the madness--the movie needs to know better. A scene where Molly defends the last Obama-free wall of the house from one of his posters suggests farce, but, a melodramatic piano score in other scenes begs us to take this seriously. John is losing his grip on reality; he sees himself on stage--with Obama himself in audience--entreating them to vote for his man. John has acting aspirations? We didn't know this till the scene came up.
Spoiler alert: Obama wins. But seriously, if you're not dissuaded, read no further.
I felt lost from the get-go. He tells his grandmother that he feels like he's lost direction, but this is inside the first five minutes of the film; there's no context. His "Obamania" is where he gets lost. He doesn't take interest in his daughter's life late in the film, and misses out on Jamal's boxing match--but at the end, we watch an extended montage of the Thomases reacting to the announcement of Obama's win, and they're flown to the White House. Is this fantasy or reality? The problem with The Obama Effect is it gets caught up in John's obsession itself.