So, we have the story of a realtor who wants nothing more than to see his name on hospital wings, schmoozes Big Money, works his way into the Hollywood scene, and eventually sets his sights on politics. Sound familiar?
Chief Zabu, initially released in 1988, works best when it is viewed retroactively prescient satire of our current president’s rise to power. It’s easy and amusing to draw parallels between the progression of Trump’s public life and that of Ben Sydney. There has even been a prologue tacked onto the beginning of the current release filmed at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. Mr. Norman discusses the similarities between the film and the soon-to-be president-elect. There’s no way Chief Zabu could have been produced in the mid-80s to satirize Trump’s presidency, but now that Trump is in the White House, the movie insists that it be seen that way.
“It’s easy and amusing to draw parallels between the progression of Trump’s public life and that of Ben Sydney.”
But as a movie, Chief Zabu is bland at best and unbearable at worst. The film’s physical look is cheap, even for the 80s, and the dialogue is, at times, baffling. Ben envisions that life as a rich man would make him “infinitesimally happy.” Huh? I think he meant “infinitely happy.” Didn’t this movie have a script supervisor?
The movie wants to be a zany, madcap comedy, but with no discernable directorial style framing that mood, all the film has to get that tone across is its performances. Yet just watching actors behave like loonies aren’t fun and quickly becomes insufferable. Garfield fares best and seems to be able to reign himself in when necessary. Norman harnesses his manic energy in every scene he’s in, and Lauter doesn’t seem to care one way or the other.
Even still, I’m glad this movie exists and is being revisited with an updated perspective. There is a common saying: “You can’t make this stuff up!” With Chief Zabu, it looks like they did, and it came true.
"…either a terrible movie that deserves to fade into obscurity, or a brilliant satire."