There’s no shortage of political topics to take on when making a conspiracy thriller. The key is, usually, to pick one and hammer it home in a way that makes the stakes easy to comprehend and become invested in. 88, a political conspiracy thriller playing at the Tribeca Film Festival this year, is a movie that defies that logic. Instead, the film tries to put way too much on its plate, leading to wildly diminished returns. What should be a mix of All The President’s Men and Margin Call never comes together, especially when it stops to try and explain things to you, and that happens a lot. This is a major missed opportunity, up and down the line.
88 is looking to be a big issues movie, but it’s so scattershot and preachy, lectures and “For Dummies” explanations replaces building tension or making cogent points. The ingredients are all here for something quietly powerful, but a lack of a coherent identity prevents that from ever happening. Whenever it threatens to get interesting, things come to a screeching halt. This is very much a case of one step forward, followed by two steps back.
Set during a fictionalized version of the 2024 Presidential campaign, Femi Jackson (Brandon Victor Dixon) has just come aboard as Financial Director for One USA, a democratic super PAC hoping to elect Democrat Harold Roundtree (Orlando Jones) as President. While looking over the numbers one day, with the primaries about to begin, Femi discovers strange patterns in the donations coming in to the PAC. Concerned, he enlists the help of friend and investment blogger Ira Goldstein (Thomas Sadoski) to assist him in digging a bit deeper. In short order, the pair uncover a conspiracy involving the number 88. Bringing it to the attention of both Deputy Executive Director Fred Fowlkes (Michael J. Harney) and head of One USA Agatha Frost (Amy Sloan), opposing viewpoints emerge. All the while, the clock is very much ticking.
As Femi and Ira keep looking into the donation patterns, more disturbing revelations pile up on each other. At the same time, the narrative flashes back and forth to an interview that Roundtree is doing with talk show host Ron Holt (William Fichtner), centered on his ideology, and especially campaign finance. How it ties in, as well as the various societal issues brought forward in the story, I’ll leave for you to find out, should you opt to check this one out.
The cast is largely better than the material. Brandon Victor Dixon is a bit too low-key for a leading man, but he’s paired well with the higher energy of Thomas Sadoski. Sadoski is best in show, by virtue of his enthusiasm. As for Orlando Jones, he feels miscast, though a lot of that may be due to the poor screenwriting, especially in regards to his candidate character. In addition to the aforementioned William Fichtner, Michael J. Harney, and Amy Sloan (none of whom are bad but none of whom leave too much of an impression), supporting players include Kenneth Choi, Jeremiah King, Naturi Naughton, and more.
Filmmaker Eromose makes a feature debut here that suggests a worry that this might have been the only opportunity. Whereas any one of his ideas would have made for a compelling narrative, he keeps adding them on top of one other, squeezing the life out of things. 88 would have benefited from better pacing and a streamlined narrative, and that doesn’t even take into account a muddled ending that leaves you wondering just what the point of it all even was? His direction is fine, but the writing leaves much to be desired.
88 was one of the titles at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival that I was most interested in, so this is a massive disappointment. Whenever the movie gets interesting, it gets in its own way. The idea is there, but it’s surrounded by so much unnecessary sidetracking that it prevents things from ever having a chance to work. Alas.