A pasty-faced, red ball-capped, pickup truck-driving Tennessean dumps a truckload of red rubber balls into a river, drives down the road, removes a sniper rifle with a Confederate flag sticker on it, and pops those calls from a great distance as target practice.
When next we see him, he’s in prison, his public defender is trying to get something — ANYthing — out of him. The FBI doesn’t even know his name, because “Amos Otis” wasn’t just the name of a 1970s pro baseball player, it’s the name of the owner of the pickup, an African American man who died some days before.
“Who is Amos Otis?” is a long-winded and dull Jeremiad about assassination, its motivations and the historic implications of killing a “divisive” and “destructive” American president who was destined to end American democracy, but didn’t.
Yes, writer-director Greg Newberry has concocted a stumbling, monotonous “What if somebody killed Trump?” parable.
The inmate (Josh Katawick) asks his attorney (Rico Reid) even asks his attorney for one thing — “an orange.” A Nazi/racist gun nut sold the guy the rifle, he’s taken a beating in jail, and bomb threats delay his trial.
Once the witness is brought to trial, as the country descends into call-out-the-National-Guard unrest, with many “dancing in the streets” at the murder, and supporters of the dead president rioting in fury, “Amos Otis” takes a turn into “The Twilight Zone.”
A prosecutor frets that “All he needs is one ‘X-Files’ fan.” Perhaps a few “flux capacitor/Marty McFly” cracks will upend the man’s arguments before the jury. The defendant blurting out events set to occur in a few days can be “stricken from the record,” but might they make his “Terminator” case?
There’s a deeply unsettling premise and historical argument at the heart of “Who is Amos Otis?” Mainstream from as “The Assassination Bureau” to “The King’s Man,” a famous Martin Landau episode of “The Twilight Zone,” even a Stephen Sondheim musical have dabbled with the assassin’s hope to alter history, for better or worse, with a bomb, poison or a gun.
How would America’s future differ if this or that key figure today died? More to the point, if “The Catcher in the Rye” can inspire murders, how dangerous is it for a movie — even one with a science fiction premise, to consider assassination as a societal, historical and global force for change?
Sondheim’s “Assassins” wasn’t revived on Broadway until after Donald Trump left office. Kathy Griffin wrecked her career by holding up a fake bloody Trump head on camera. I once stopped a newspaper where I worked from running a photo of the then-president with a sniper’s bullseye superimposed over it — for a book review. You have to be seriously tone deaf or cloistered to not realize the mere suggestion of that is dangerous, could earn you a visit from the Secret Service, and is not helpful.
Putting a smug and twisted “Thank you for your service” in here is more suited to an “own the wingnuts on Twitter” post than a serious movie.
Science fiction and “alternate history” have engaged in this moral, ethical and “butterfly effect” discussion before, but never with a guy wearing a red “America Strong Forever” cap, and never with the veiled subject of this thought exercise still storming about, holding fascist rallies as his political backers prep for a possible coup while an attorney general dithers away the urgent need to prosecute him.
If any of this played into Gravitas Ventures’ decision to distribute “Amos Otis,” then good for them for at least having the debate. But the best argument for releasing “Who is Amos Otis?” might be the end product itself. Tedious courtroom scenes, flat acting, sermonizing speeches, under-explained “explanations” of the technology needed — nobody is likely to stick with this to the end.
Rating: not rated, profanity
Cast: Josh Katawick, Rico Reid, Christine Brunner, Derek Snow,
Credits: Scripted and directed by Greg Newberry. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:44