Barbara Lippert’s critique: Drops the Ball

Jordan/Bradley spot is no slam dunk
Let’s get the partisan thing out of the way: I’m really taken with Bill Bradley, and if his campaign showed a glimmer of life, I’d throw in my support. So I was thrilled to hear that Michael Jordan, a man better known and certainly more revered than Bill Clinton, but still a virgin when it comes to political endorsements, would appear in a history-making spot for his fellow NBAer.
Jordan’s ability to defy gravity on the court has allowed him to transcend every other barrier. His fans defy the usual race, age and gender expectations. He cuts such a mythic figure he’s got a Teflon quality. Despite the number of commercial brands he’s endorsed, he avoids seeming cheesy. (Although the Ballpark Franks work comes close.)
So no matter what your political views, getting a Jordan endorsement is a phenomenal coup (Al Gore had to settle for His Airness’ mom.) I thought the resultant spot would become the most potent political ad since LBJ’s 1964 “Daisy” sunk the Goldwater campaign. Until I saw it.
Given the pace of technology and increasing levels of viewer sophistication and jadedness, 1964 is the Ice Age. Yet compared to the level of filmmaking and the use of metaphor in “Daisy,” the Jordan spot is rudimentary. It feels as if it could have been made in Abraham Lincoln’s day, if they had had color videotape.
I understand that in using Mr. Powerhouse, Bradley wants to be cautious and not seem obvious and pandering. (He says in his book Values of the Game that he chose not to do commercial endorsements when he was a New York Knick.)
Given his accomplishments since, it’s understandable that Bradley doesn’t want to be promoted like the latest sneaker. And there were probably severe constraints on Jordan’s time and availability, making the production schedule tough.
But did there need to be such a gap between the energy and sass of your average Nike commercial and the completely flatfooted, pedestrian approach taken here?
I have always wondered what a director like Joe Pytka or Spike Lee brings to the Jordan party, and apparently, the answer is a lot.
In fairness to Jordan, however, even Olivier would have trouble reading line after line of dense, uninteresting text from a teleprompter without any visual break.
“I know the kind of America I want for my children,” Jordan says in a kindly voice. “It’s a good place where every family has health and no family suffers the tragedy of gun violence.” Now this is reasonable, especially since Jordan’s own father was gunned down. But where does Bradley stand on gun control? Who knows?
Jordan goes on in equally vague terms about a place where “skin color or eye shade don’t matter,” and “every American [has] the opportunity to succeed and be viewed equally.”
Watching Bush and McCain spew venom in South Carolina, I can understand the desire to stay positive. But why so student councilish and ill-defined?
In short, Jordan is wasted in this spot. Perhaps the idea was to work up to a Martin Luther King-type level of oratory, but the words never achieve any emotional weight.
After the endless close-up of Jordan’s face (but not his bald head, another wasted bit of major iconography), there’s a slapped-on edit: a shot of Bradley standing at a pond or shoreline with his wife, Ernestine, another unused secret weapon. It seems so wistful, ghostly and slow, it could be a memorial. He stands there craning his head like a migratory bird. Then we get the tagline, “It could happen.” Not in this spot.
Where’s Bugs Bunny when you need him?