Damn, what can you say to adequately describe the charmed life and troubled times of Bob Evans? No, not the guy who makes those meat sticks and cheese baskets you buy at the mall for your grandmother at Christmas; I’m talking about Hollywood producer/gambler/mogul/legend Robert Evans. Describing his influence on American film and culture is like relating Abraham Lincoln’s influence on American history. That is, if Lincoln’s best friend was Jack Nicholson and his wife had dumped him in the middle of the Civil War to shack up with Steve McQueen. As a studio chief and producer at Paramount his (green) light sparkled upon such jewels of Hollywood’s last golden age as “The Godfather”, “The Godfather Part II”, “Chinatown”, “Love Story”, “Rosemary’s Baby”, “Harold and Maude”, “Marathon Man”, and “Urban Cowboy” to name but a few. The force of Evans’ impact is near that of Walt Disney. That is, if Walt had developed a bad coke habit instead of a theme park. Instead, Evans’ is a Disneyland of the (tortured) mind. The rides just happen to have names like Ava, Lana, and Ali. The roller coasters aren’t so easy to walk away from, either. Hey, it may not be safe for kids, but it’s still a hell of a lot of fun.
Anyway, there’s no need for me to even attempt to paint a picture of Evans. He’s already done it, not once, not twice, but three times. First time was with his juicy, best-selling autobiography, “The Kid Stays in the Picture”. That was followed by his abridged book-on-tape version. At least within the entertainment industry, this edition has reached cult status due to Bob’s own hard-boiled, boozed-up, and nicotine-stained narration. With these two formats conquered, that left basically videogames and the movies. While the former choice is indeed a mind-boggling proposition (Players! Race to finish “The Godfather” before McQueen can bag your wife or Coppola can take all the credit!), the public is now at least blessed with a documentary of the same name.
The best part about it is that, like the audio-only edition, the only voice we hear is the lovely, touching, hysterical, poignant, self-mythologizing/hating bass of Bob Evans. Really, that’s all we need. Accompanied only by select music and the photos and footage of an extremely well-documented life, an epic the size of three “Godfather” films unfolds in just 90 too-brief minutes. Do I have any complaints? You bet your a*s I do: Evans’ life is so vast in scope that it would really take a 20-hour miniseries to properly cover his memorable time on Earth to date. Even the six-hour tape version passes by like an eight-ball of coke on Friday night. Oh, well. Guess I just have to settle for an hour-and-a-half of greatness instead and pray to the DVD gods for an extended director’s cut.
Am I getting through to you yet? Let me put it this way: I’ve already seen at least 20 documentaries this year. They’ve left me amused, sad, informed, bored, pissed-off, whatever. I’m willing to bet, though, that I don’t see another this year as richly entertaining or as cathartic as “The Kid Stays in the Picture.” Is it really that good? You better believe it. If you learn anything from this movie, it’s to never, ever bet against Robert Evans.