The Eric Roberts Collection: Free Lunch Express (dir by Lenny Britton)

Eric Roberts appears about twenty minutes into 2020’s Free Lunch Express.  He plays a man standing in line at a Vermont welfare office.  He tells a youngish Bernie Sanders (played, at that point in the movie, by Sam Brittan) that the easiest way to make some extra money is to run for public office because there’s no limit on the amount of money you can raise and you can keep whatever you have left after the campaign.  Having been recently kicked out of a commune and having no interest in getting a real job, Sanders is intrigued by the advice and soon embarks on his first political campaign.  Roberts only appears in that one scene.  It probably took an hour or two of his time to film.  Roberts spends the entire scene laughing, supposedly because he’s amused over the idea of making a living as a perennial political candidate.

(For that matter, Eric Roberts is not the only familiar face to pop up in Free Lunch Express.  Not surprisingly, Kevin Sorbo shows up.  He plays the ghost of George Washington and I’ll admit that I chucked at his Elizabeth Warren joke.  Far more surprisingly, Malcolm McDowell shows up as the narrator and epically rolls his eyes at every major moment of Sanders’s life.)

As for the rest of the film, Free Lunch Express is an attempt to do an Adam McKay-style satire about the career of Bernie Sanders.  Unfortunately, the problem with trying to make fun of Bernie Sanders is that even Bernie’s most fervent supporters already realize and often acknowledge that he’s a vaguely ludicrous figure.  Indeed, the very things that the film pokes fun at — like Bernie’s permanently messy hair, his thick Brooklyn accent, his habit of yelling out his comments while pointing upwards, and his apparently inability to make normal small talk — are the same things that most of his supporters find to be appealing about him.  I disagree with Bernie on the majority of the issues and I would probably move to another country if he was ever elected President but, at the same time, I can’t help but kind of like him.  One reason why so many people voted for him in 2016 is because he seemed to be authentic in a way that other politicians did not.  It’s easy to poke fun at a slick politician but it’s far more difficult to do so at someone who looks like he just got out of bed and who tends to say whatever pops into his mind.  It’s far easier to satirize the personality of a Hillary Clinton or a Mitt Romney than it is to satirize a Bernie Sanders.

Free Lunch Express follows Bernie through three stages of his life.  As a child, Bernie (played by Jonah Britton) swears a blood oath while standing in front of a poster Joseph Stalin and he declares that he’ll never be bullied again.  As a young man, Bernie (Sam Brittan) moves to Vermont and annoys all the other hippies to such an extent that he’s forced to take Eric Roberts’s advice and run for political office.  And, as an old and ineffective Senator, Bernie (now played by Charles Hutchins) runs for the presidency and only drops out after Hillary (Cynthia Kania) promises to campaign in Wisconsin and Ohio in the general election.  There were a few moments that made me chuckle, like the portrayal of Ben & Jerry as being two hippies who can’t have a conversation without shouting out the name of their latest flavor or Bernie cluelessly traveling to dreary Moscow for the worst honeymoon ever.  But, for the most part, the humor falls flat and the jokes are often too repetitive to really be effective.  Having a young and nerdy Bernie swear his allegiance to Stalin because he thinks that Stalin, who killed millions of his own citizens, will create a world without bullies is funny.  However, having the ghost of Stalin randomly speak to Bernie throughout the years is a joke that grows tiresome and never really pays off.  It’s pretty much the same issue that I had with Adam McKay’s Vice.  Much as Vice did with Dick Cheney, the film tries so hard to take down Sanders with ridicule that it instead makes him seem almost likable.  Indeed, by focusing on the times that Bernie was, in the film’s view, humiliated by Hillary Clinton, the hippies at the commune, and basic economic realities, the film actually portrays Bernie as someone who refuses to surrender his principles, regardless of how often the rest of the world tells him that he’s wrong.  The film aims to be Tartuffe and instead turns into Candide.

Finally, on a personal note, I think anyone who ever runs for office should be ridiculed, regardless of what they believe or whether or not they’ve done a good job.  It’s a good way to keep them honest and to remind theme that they’re supposed to work for us and not the other way around.  If one’s beliefs can’t survive a joke or two, that says far more about the beliefs than it does about the jokes.

Previous Eric Roberts Films That We Have Reviewed:

  1. Star 80 (1983)
  2. Blood Red (1989)
  3. The Ambulance (1990)
  4. The Lost Capone (1990)
  5. Love, Cheat, & Steal (1993)
  6. Love Is A Gun (1994)
  7. Sensation (1994)
  8. Doctor Who (1996)
  9. Most Wanted (1997)
  10. Mr. Brightside (2004)
  11. Six: The Mark Unleased (2004)
  12. Hey You (2006)
  13. In The Blink of an Eye (2009)
  14. The Expendables (2010) 
  15. Sharktopus (2010)
  16. Deadline (2012)
  17. Miss Atomic Bomb (2012)
  18. Lovelace (2013)
  19. Self-Storage (2013)
  20. This Is Our Time (2013)
  21. Inherent Vice (2014)
  22. Road to the Open (2014)
  23. Rumors of War (2014)
  24. A Fatal Obsession (2015)
  25. Stalked By My Doctor (2015)
  26. Stalked By My Doctor: The Return (2016)
  27. The Wrong Roommate (2016)
  28. Stalked By My Doctor: Patient’s Revenge (2018)
  29. Monster Island (2019)
  30. Seven Deadly Sins (2019)
  31. Stalked By My Doctor: A Sleepwalker’s Nightmare (2019)
  32. The Wrong Mommy (2019)
  33. Her Deadly Groom (2020)
  34. Top Gunner (2020)
  35. Just What The Doctor Ordered (2021)
  36. Killer Advice (2021)
  37. The Poltergeist Diaries (2021)
  38. My Dinner With Eric (2022)

3 responses to “The Eric Roberts Collection: Free Lunch Express (dir by Lenny Britton)

  1. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 4/24/23 — 4/30/23 | Through the Shattered Lens

  2. Pingback: The Eric Roberts Collection: Joker’s Poltergeist (dir by Christopher S. Lind) | Through the Shattered Lens

  3. Pingback: Retro Television Reviews: Dark Angel (dir by Robert Iscove) | Through the Shattered Lens

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