All Hail The Chief: Weird Movie Presidents

March 17, 2016
With Aaron Eckhart playing a wholesome, good-guy US President in this week’s London Has Fallen, and Donald Trump marching on The White House, we take a look at a cinematic Oval Office full of oddball movie Presidents.


“Motherfucker, I’m not asking! I’m the president of the fucking United States, man,” growls President Rathcock (played with mad-eyed enthusiasm by Charlie Sheen) to Mexican federale and all around hard-man, Machete (Danny Trejo), in Machete Kills, Robert Rodriguez’ loopy sequel to his 2010 exploitation opus, Machete. The hilariously full-tilt Rathcock orders Machete to assassinate a psychotic Mexican revolutionary who has a missile pointed at Washington, in exchange for full and immediate citizenship. “I just stamp this bad motherfucker,” Rathcock says, as he gives Machete the green light. “I am the more interesting president, yeah,” Charlie Sheen told Metro when asked how President Rathcock compared to President Bartlet, who was played by his father, Martin Sheen, on TV’s The West Wing. “I will have your vote after you see the movie. In one day in The Oval Office, I slept with three women, pulled out a machine gun, drank, smoked, and swore. In seven seasons of the show, my dad didn’t do any of that, you know?”


In Mike Judge’s brilliant and cruelly under-celebrated 2006 comedy, Idiocracy, poor breeding habits have left the intelligent outnumbered and the rampantly stupid in charge of the good ol’ US of A. In a society where the most popular show on TV is “Ouch, My Balls”, and the year’s big Oscar winner is a movie called “Ass”, it’s horribly appropriate that the Commander In Chief is a ludicrously costumed former rock’n’roll wrestler, and that the front lawn of The White House is home to regular cook-outs and car stunts. As the beautifully named President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho, Terry Crews (The Expendables) is a mountain of foul mouthed, incessantly stupid muscle, and one of the funniest men to ever take cinematic office. In response to the madness surrounding the early stages of the current US Presidential race, Terry Crews even got in character for a President Camacho tweet. “All y’all need to stop tripping,” he hollered into the Twittersphere. “Chill the F out, ‘merica.”


In Clint Eastwood’s taut, nuanced thriller, The US President isn’t just weird, he’s a murderous, sleazy, lying creep who will do anything to stay in power. Some might argue that that’s not exactly out of character for many past leaders of the free world, but Gene Hackman’s President Allen Richmond is one very sick puppy indeed. As Clint Eastwood’s veteran thief makes unseen witness while robbing an isolated country mansion, the sexually off-the-grid President indulges in a little hanky-panky with a much younger woman, but then reveals himself to be a pain-freak, sadistically beating his conquest, who eventually stabs him in retaliation. Two Secret Service agents then storm into the room and shoot her dead. With a cover-up soon in full swing thanks to Richmond’s White House Chief Of Staff (Judy Davis), Eastwood’s thief spends much of the movie trying not to get involved, but ultimately relents when the horribly smarmy President Allen Richmond’s public hypocrisy becomes too much to bear. Cue a classic moment of Eastwood slowly deciding to bring the proverbial hammer down, and the end of a very weird movie President.


Mickey Rourke as a crazed politician in a post-Apocalypse America? Hey, why not? Nothing else makes much sense in Masked & Anonymous, a perversely watchable testament to the iconography of Bob Dylan. The music legend, along with Seinfeld creator, Larry Charles, co-wrote (under pseudonyms) this mess of a film about a recently incarcerated legendary muso (Dylan as folkie troubadour, Jack Fate) recruited by shonky promoters (Jessica Lange and John Goodman) to headline a benefit concert to raise money for poverty relief. During the course of the film, Mickey Rourke’s Edmund – complete with long hair and Fu Manchu beard – assumes The US Presidency when the sitting Commander In Chief dies. In his inauguration speech, President Edmund sets forth with his loopy agenda, promising to bomb the jungles, and bring in real violence instead of media violence. He also has some interesting ideas when it comes to law and order. “We will empty the prisons,” he intones, “and we will build football stadiums, where the evildoers from the prisons will be trampled by elephants, mauled by uncaged bears, and pecked to death by screamin’ eagles.” Does that sound like anyone familiar?


You’d have to be a pretty weird US President to instigate something like the murderous Transcontinental Road Race as a form of national entertainment, and Sandy McCallum’s Mr. President is a demented totalitarian indeed. In the Roger Corman-produced, Paul Bartel-directed 1975 cult favourite, Death Race 2000, this gruesome on-road competition – where a collection of garishly costumed, rock’n’roll wrestler-type contestants engage in a cross-country bolt through a futuristic, dystopian America, playing to a list of sadistic rules, including the awarding of extra points for killing babies and the physically challenged – forms the centrepiece of a film that has become increasingly prescient in light of today’s media obsession and the prevalence of violent sports. The hero of the day is David Carradine’s disfigured racer (and on-the-sly revolutionary), Frankenstein, who wants to win the race so he can knock off The President when he takes the winner’s podium. Stupidly remade by Paul W.S. Anderson in 2008 with Jason Statham behind the wheel, Death Race 2000 is a sharp and kooky seventies satire, and its Commander In Chief (who declares war on France at one point!) is an evil whack-job who comes to a fittingly violent end.


A pop star for President? Well, a former actor took the top job, so why not? In the 1968 exploitation curio, Wild In The Streets, Max Frost (Christopher Jones) is a rock singer and wannabe revolutionary lured into the world of politics by conniving Senate candidate, Johnny Fergus (Hal Halbrook), as a means of scoring the favour of the nation’s youth by kick-starting a campaign to lower the voting age from 21 to 18. Max, however, eventually breaks out on his own, and through means most foul (including spiking the Washington water supply with LSD!), succeeds in having the voting age lowered to 14, upon which he assumes the US Presidency, and brings in a sweeping array of freaked out, countercultural changes: 30 becomes the mandatory retirement age; those over 35 are sent to “re-education camps” and permanently dosed on LSD; the military and the FBI are disbanded; computers are placed in in charge of the economy; and surplus grain is shipped for free to third world nations. President Frost’s brutal enforcement of The Generation Gap – and cruel inversion of the peace-and-love principles of Flower Power – mark him as a very weird on-screen US President, and certainly the most psychedelic.


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