Review: ‘88’

Despite A Good Cast, This Political Thriller Can’t Decide If it’s About Race Or Dark Money

Ever since the Supreme Court ruled on Citizens United and completely changed how political campaigns could be run, it has further fueled the investment of money into politics. I mean, it was already a crazily overly expensive way to ask people to vote you into office. Surprisingly, Hollywood has been behind the curve in regard to addressing the subject in films. However, Samuel Golden Films’ newest feature 88, tries to tackle the subject and race in America at the same time… with mixed results.

Produced by Lenard “Charlamagne Tha God” of “The Breakfast Club” fame and written and directed by Eromose (Legacy), 88 centers on a Democratic Super PAC that is trying to elect the first black president Harold Roundtree (Orlando Jones) into office when one day the Super PAC’s financial director Femi Jackson (Brandon Victor Dixon) uncovers what appears to be hidden codes within the donations to the Super PAC and he uncovers what could be one of the biggest political conspiracies of all time.

For some reason, the code hidden in almost all the donations to the Super PAC adds up to the number 88. Femi thinks it’s just “weird,” but after sharing the details with his friend Ira Goldstein (Thomas Sadoski), Ira shares that these numbers are an almost hidden code that has connections to the Nazis. Nowadays thanks to Charlottesville and the fact that Trumpism has reignited white supremacy, some of us are familiar that “88” is code for “Heil Hitler,” especially on social media.

As the two starts to go down the rabbit hole, they uncover a huge conspiracy of Nazis trying to reestablish the “Master Race” and have been influencing American domestic policy since after World War 2. Of course, the first question you would have to ask is, “why are they trying to elect the first black president?!?” 88 does try and answer that for the audience in a kind of frustrating way in the final act of the film. In fact, most of the time in 88, we only see Jones’ Rountree being interviewed by actor Ron Holt in a Charlie Rose type of political show, and you can see he’s the kind of a “pull you up by your bootstraps” politician, so maybe that’s the type of black guy Nazi’s can get behind.

While Femi and Ira are trying to unravel the conspiracy with other members of his Super PAC (Amy Sloan, Michael Harney), 88 also tries to juggle other hot-button topics. His wife Maria (Naturi Naughton) wears her politics on her sleeve (even complaining about that “Kilmonger was right” in Black Panther when Femi wants their son to have a Black Panther-themed birthday party) and works at a local bank where she wants to make a difference, even trying to help a former felon try and get a loan to start his own business, but is muted along the lines of race and class. In addition, Femi talks with his sponsor (Kenneth Choi) about “Black Lives Matter” vs “Stop Asian Hate.” It feels a little bit like Eromose wanted to cram as much into 88 as he could in regard to his ideas of politics and race and doesn’t really get the chance to explore either as much as they should have.

Brandon Victor Dixon delivers an incredible performance as Femi as does Thomas Sadoski as Ira, but unfortunately, the script was all over the place trying to juggle too many topics. There are conceptual inconsistencies as well. In this world, Roundtree is going to be the first black president, which means no President Obama, but at the same time, anti-Asian sentiment from Covid is mentioned as well as Charlottesville and tiki torches, which comes from Trump. It’s hard to imagine a world where Trump became president if there wasn’t a backlash against Obama to help him rise to power. 88 could have definitely used a script doctor to punch up some of the fallacies between our world and the world created for the film. 88 could also be seen as “preachy” as well as it makes no denial of the type of story it’s trying to tell, it could have been better executed and tried to juggle the idea of Dark Money and racism/white supremacy a little better.

88 is currently available on Video On Demand.