"Mel Martinez: 100 Days" (not rated)
;2 1/2 stars
;(Out of five)
In a cinematic world dominated by Tom Clancy adaptations, it's a daunting task to make the work of a county chairman appear a fit subject for an enthralling political documentary. But in crafting a video tribute to one of our own elected representatives, producing partners WMFE-TV Channel 24 and the Orange County Communications Division haven't merely ignored the boredom factor inherent in local politics; by titling their recently-aired biopic "Mel Martinez: 100 Days," they've set themselves up for Kennedy-level comparisons their tepid material simply can't support.
Superior production values might have helped "MM100" attain some degree of visceral impact. Instead, we're forced to sit through approximately 40 minutes of footage that's heavily weighted toward the talking-head-in-front-of-a-potted-plant setups that are so familiar to the infomercial industry's numerous psychic friends. For good measure, some soft-focus footage has been thrown in of Martinez walking through idyllic outdoor locales with his family and pets. It's a stylistically jarring transition, but it proves that personality-enhancing footage is too expensive to merely throw away after a campaign is over.
As its title would indicate, the film's dramatic thrust is Martinez's drive to make his first 100 days in office a period of achievement, or at least recognition. To that end, the light-rail issue is given the status of a suspenseful MacGuffin, looming over the proceedings in the form of repeated scenes of trains pulling into and out of their destinations. At one such juncture, the soundtrack rocks out to the sound of Mick Jagger wailing "When the train left the staaaation" from the Rolling Stones' version of Robert Johnson's "Love in Vain."
When all else fails, the inevitable analogies of government to sports are accompanied by video snippets from FSU gridiron games. Not games that Martinez actually attended, mind you, merely ones the producers could locate clips of.
The irony is that there's actually some dramatic material here, but it's all front-loaded into the film's first 10 minutes. Scenes of an early policy-making session fairly crackle with tension, as Martinez's co-commissioners testily admonish him for failing to do his homework. Later, even his supporters concede that learning the details of commission procedure was one of Martinez's most significant initial challenges.
For his part, the cheerfully overwhelmed civil servant admits that being Orange County Chairman has brought him into contact with citizens from avenues of life he had never before walked in his 35 years of living in the area. Wait a minute: Wasn't he supposed to know who these people were before he decided he was the best man to serve them?
The documentary's final half can't compete with those intriguing beginnings. It's almost impossible to show a character achieving political goals; unless he's played be Jimmy Stewart, you're going to be looking at a lot of close-ups of papers being signed. Instead, "MM100" gives us more head shots of staffers telling us how much Martinez has accomplished since taking office. There's no active payoff, though the feelings of frustration only get worse when Martinez takes the podium to deliver his climactic 100th-day address. Shown in its entirety, the segment reveals just what an uninspiring public figure the chairman actually is. Rarely looking up from his notes, he exudes zero charisma, even tossing away his key closing line, "Together we can, and together we will," with the most offhand delivery imaginable. After "The Manchurian Candidate," we as viewers have a right to expect more from keynote speeches.
A poor orator, terminally confused, and enamored of any child who asks for his autograph (as we see more than once), Martinez perhaps isn't unprecedented in the pantheon of screen politicos. He's Bulworth, isn't he? Now if only he could rap, we'd all have a reason to keep watching.
The documentary Mel Martinez: 100 Days airs periodically on Orange TV (channel 9), the county government channel.
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