Exploiting our Archives: Trumpterpiece Theater: Eddie (1996)

Trumpterpiece Theater is an occasional feature on the film cameos of crazy-haired TV clown and current United States President Donald Trump

As their coach, Whoopi totally gets to see her players' dongs.

As their coach, Whoopi totally gets to see her players' dongs.

In 1996, Donald Trump cameoed in a pair of movie that illustrated Whoopi Goldberg’s incredible range during the “Why are studios still making Whoopi Goldberg vehicles when they all flop/are terrible?” stage of her film career. In The Associate, Goldberg plays a plucky, hard-working underdog who, through hard work, dedication, talent, and a series of outrageous and wildly implausible events, ends up not only competing in, but dominating, the male-centric field of business. 

Goldberg shifted gears for Eddie, which cast Goldberg against type as a a plucky, hard-working, underdog who, through hard work, dedication, talent, and a series of outrageous and wildly implausible events, ends up not only competing, but dominating in the male-centric field of professional basketball. Truly, Goldberg contains multitudes. 

In Eddie, Goldberg plays the titular dreamer, a scrappy New York Knicks super-fan whose life revolves around cheering on her favorite team with a dedication that borders on unhealthy. For her, basketball is sacred and the Madison Square Garden is the only church she’ll ever need or recognize.

Like every sports buff, she is an inveterate know-it-all who just knows that she could do a better job of coaching than the team’s actual coach if given the chance. Unlike her fellow sports radio addicts, however, Eddie unexpectedly gets a chance to back up her sass-talk with sass-action when she is given the opportunity to first “guest coach” the team, much to the annoyance of cantankerous actual coach John Bailey (Dennis Farina, the human embodiment of Chicagoan toughness), and then when she is made the team’s head coach as a publicity stunt. 

Eddie’s unlikely dream-maker is William 'Wild Bill' Burgess (Frank Langella) an eccentric billionaire who suggests a faux-hillbilly version of Donald Trump. Like Trump, Burgess is a consummate showman and entertainer as well as a captain of industry. He’s famous for riding his trusty steed around the Garden and speaks with a honey-dripping Southern drawl. Like Trump, he is an outsized caricature of a particular strain of American, Southern in this case whereas Trump is the ultimate New Yorker. 

Burgess prides himself on having a common touch despite his extraordinary wealth and power but behind all that cornball charm lies an icy core of cynical calculation. Burgess plays to the cheap seats but he’s really only concerned with money and publicity and attendance and, in what the film depicts as the ultimate act of sacrilege for a New York sports team owner, he plans to move The Knicks out of New York.

Eddie gets off to a slow start. Having won the Academy Award, Goldberg seems intent on including as many lumbering dramatic scenes as possible in her silly comedies. I don’t remember it particularly well, but I wouldn’t be surprised if even Theodore Rex has an entire subplot about the talking dinosaur cop’s troubled relationship with his father and eagerness to prove himself in law enforcement. 

Here, that dramatic element takes the form of Eddie mentoring the underprivileged children she coaches, her never-ending grief over the beloved, late father who instilled in his daughter a feverish devotion to the church of basketball (for extra sadness points, the screenwriters give Eddie a dead husband too, to really drive home that there’s nothing distracting her from basketball) and Wild Bill’s sinister scheme to betray Eddie’s beloved New York. 

The film doesn’t pick up steam comedically until Eddie is coaching the Knicks and acting as some curious combination of den mother, drill sergeant, life coach and you know, actual coach. But when she’s on the court, Eddie is mostly a sub-par insult comic. 

When I worked at Blockbuster Video as a teenager, they used to play an Entertainment Tonight half hour package on repeat. So, over the course of an eight-hour shift, I would watch the same terrible fake television program sixteen times. Consequently, I went completely insane and I also remember, to this day, pretty much everything that was on that goddamn program. 

This includes brief excerpts from Eddie where Goldberg, in full on Don Rickles-of-the-hardwood mode, responds to a competing player calling her a bad coach by saying that said player looked like a “roach.” Even more annoyingly, I will never forget the moment in Eddie where Dennis Rodman razzes Eddie by calling her a bad coach and she comes back with, “Bad hair!” 

Now I'm not uptight, and I like to enjoy a laugh every now and then. But I think criticizing someone’s hair is going too far. Dying his hair bright colors is a symbol of Rodman's belief in self-expression and personal freedom. For her to criticize him in such harsh, brutal terms just seems wrong. 

I'm sorry if that makes me "politically correct" but some things are too important to joke about, like Dennis Rodman's personal eccentricities. Thankfully, Eddie gets better as it progresses, thanks to some clever jabs at the self-absorption and narcissism of contemporary athletes and a genuinely great, refreshingly understated supporting turn by the terrific character actor Richard Jenkins as Eddie’s assistant.

Like Jenkins, Goldberg and Langella turn in genuine dramatic performance in a very silly sports comedy. Needless to say, these three Oscar nominees (including a winner in Goldberg) give slightly more naturalistic, convincing performances than the many professional basketball players given speaking roles, although John Salley gives a nicely textured performance that foreshadows his second career in entertainment. 

Speaking of non-actors, Donald Trump joins the array of big, bigly New York names as one of a series of sentient New York landmarks interviewed about this crazy new phenomenon of a sassy black woman coaching the New York Knicks. Trump is in distinguished company here. Other cameos include Rudy “Vlad the Impaler” Giuliani, Ed Koch and David Letterman. 

As with The Associate, there is a hint of self-deprecation to Trump’s cameo here that stands in sharp contrast to the self-aggrandizing tone of everything else he's ever done. Even when Trump was on Saturday Night Live, the premise of most of the sketches seemed to be “Donald Trump is even more amazing and remarkable than he continually professes to be.”

But in Eddie, when Trump is asked about the title character, he crows, "Actually, Eddie was my idea from the beginning.” It’s a cheap, easy punchline playing on Trump’s predilection for being an arrogant, egotistical blowhard who loves to claim credit for other people’s work and is never constrained by honesty or facts. In that respect, it’s mildly amusing because it’s true. 

And, to give the devil his due, Trump’s cameo briefly livens up this silly fluff. I can easily imagine Trump thinking of his cameo work, ”I destroy with but a single sentence. People go nuts. The focus groups, you wouldn't believe what they say about me. That I should star in movies because I'm more handsome than Tom Cruise and have sex onscreen with a woman who looks very much like my sexy and alluring and beautiful daughter Ivanka, but is not, or maybe is?” 

Trump helps make Eddie enjoyable mediocre, totally 1990s fluff, consummate escapism. In the 1990s, it was fun when Trump showed up silly movies like this because he was a cheesy, shameless C-list celebrity and not the probable harbinger of the apocalypse he is now. 

Trump’s dialogue in its entirety: "Actually, Eddie was my idea from the beginning"

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