30 April 2009 | JamesHitchcock
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm grew up and went to work as a Bunny Girl.
When an attempt is made to assassinate the Emir of Ohtar, an Arab potentate visiting Washington, D.C., his life is saved by a cocktail waitress named Sunny Davis. Sunny becomes a national heroine and media celebrity and as a reward is offered a job working for the Protocol Section of the United States Department of State. Unknown to her however, the State Department officials who offer her the job have a hidden agenda.
A map we see shows Ohtar lying on the borders of Saudi Arabia and South Yemen, in an area of barren desert known as the Rub al-Khali, or Empty Quarter. In real life a state in this location would have a population of virtually zero, and virtually zero strategic value, but for the purposes of the film we have to accept that Ohtar is of immense strategic importance in the Cold War and that the American government, who are keen to build a military base there, need to do all that they can in order to keep on the good side of its ruler. It transpires that the Emir has taken a fancy to the attractive young woman who saved him and he has reached a deal with the State Department; they can have their base provided that he can have Sunny as the latest addition to his harem. Sunny's new job is just a ruse to ensure that the Emir has further opportunities to meet her.
A plot like this could have been the occasion for some hilarious satire, but in fact the film's satirical content is rather toned down. Possibly in 1984 the American public were not in the mood for trenchant satire on their country's foreign policy; this was, after all, the year in which Ronald Reagan carried forty-nine out of fifty states in the Presidential election and his hard line with the Soviet Union was clearly going down well with the voters. (If the film had been made a couple of years later, in the wake of the Iran/Contra affair, its tone might have been different).
The film is not so much a satire as a vehicle for Goldie Hawn to show off her brand of cuteness and charm. Sunny is a typical Goldie character- pretty, sweet-natured, naive and not too bright. There is, however, a limit to how far you can go with cuteness and charm alone, and you cannot automatically make a bad film a good one just by making the leading character a dumb blonde. (Actually, that sounds more like a recipe for making a good film a bad one). Goldie tries her best to save this one, but never succeeds. Part of the reason is the inconsistent way in which her character is portrayed. On the one hand Sunny is a sweet, innocent country girl from Oregon. On the other hand she is a 35-year-old woman who works in a sleazy bar and wears a revealing costume. The effect is rather like imagining Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm grown up and working as a Bunny Girl.
The more important reason why Goldie is unable to rescue this film is even the best comedian or comedienne is no better than his/her material, and "Protocol" is simply unfunny. Whatever humour exists is tired and strained, relying on offensive stereotypes about Arab men who, apparently, all lust after Western women, particularly if they are blonde and blue-eyed. There was a lot of this sort of thing about in the mid-eighties, as this was the period which also saw the awful Ben Kingsley/ Nastassia Kinski film "Harem", about a lascivious Middle Eastern ruler who kidnaps a young American woman, and the mini-series of the same name which told a virtually identical story with a period setting. The film-makers seem to have realised that their film would not work as a pure comedy, because towards the end it turns into a sort of latter-day "Mr Smith Goes to Washington". Sunny turns from a blonde bimbo into a fount of political wisdom and starts uttering all sorts of platitudes about Democracy and the Constitution and the Citizen's Duty to Vote and We The People and how the Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance blah blah blah
, but in truth the film is no more successful as a political parable than it is as a comedy.
Goldie Hawn has made a number of good comedies, such as "Cactus Flower", "Overboard" and ""Housesitter", but "Protocol" is not one of them. I have not seen all of her films, but of those I have seen this dire comedy is by far the worst. 3/10