Yesterday Deadline‘s Mike Fleming reported that Baby Driver‘s Ansel Elgort will play John F. Kennedy in a new version of P.T. 109, titled Mayday 109. I immediately rolled my eyes. Elgort would have made a note-perfect Han Solo — he’s got the slightly brash attitude, the smug assurance and the guy-ness. Han Solo directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord, not to mention producer Kathy Kennedy and the Disney brass, were dead blind not to see this. (Instead they hired a 5′ 9″, beady-eyed Rabbinical student with a gloomy countenance.) But as JFK? Probably not.
No one can play the 35th President and emerge fully unscathed. They either don’t look right or they overdo the accent or both. Elgort’s main advantage is that he’s matinee-idol handsome and slender like Kennedy, although he’s slightly disadvantaged by being too tall at 6′ 3″, or three inches higher than the Real McCoy. On top of which no one has ever quite gotten the voice, and I doubt if anyone ever will. The only way to do it properly is to (a) digitally edit and reconstitute audio recordings so that JFK himself “speaks” the dialogue or (b) hire a gifted JFK mimic to dub Elgort a la Vincent D’Onofrio‘s as Orson Welles in Ed Wood.
Why does anyone want to remake P.T. 109 in the first place? The story isn’t that riveting, for one thing. It’s just about an accidental WWII collision (Kennedy’s P.T. boat getting sliced in half by a larger Japanese ship in the dead of night) followed by some marathon swimming and then carving out an S.O.S. message on a coconut shell, blah blah. By current action-thriller standards it has next to no juice. It even seemed tepid and low-energy by the standards of 1963, which is when the original Cliff Robertson version was released. Jack L. Warner presumed it would be commercial due to JFK’s Oval Office occupancy, but who the hell cares now except for long-of-tooth boomers?
The only workable angle I can think of is having the collision and rescue happen during Act 2, and then devoting Act 3 to showing how the Kennedy family and more precisely Joseph P. Kennedy turned this slightly dicey misfortune into a heroic episode, and then used this image to help launch JFK’s first Congressional campaign in 1946.
However this strange-sounding project turns out, Elgort is definitely a movie star in the wings. (After seeing The Fault In Our Stars three years ago I wrote that “Elgort’s charm and charisma has a lulling effect…I sat there saying to myself, this guy’s got it.”) He has that X-factor quality, he just does, and one thing strongly in his favor is that he’s acquired a rep as a bit of a scamp. If you ask me anyone who doesn’t play the game as ordered by the p.c. banshees is doing something right, and especially if they inspire Jezebel articles that seem to take exception to some of his interview comments.