Beginning with a botched break-in at the eponymous Washington hotel in 1971, Watergate went on to become a synonym for the criminal abuse of executive power. The arrest of the burglars triggered an investigation that revealed an illegal conspiracy against his opponents instigated by US President Richard Nixon. Such was Nixon's paranoia that, as part of the operation, he secretly recorded hundreds of hours of conversations with his aides in the Oval Office. Forced to hand over the relevant tapes, Nixon resigned before he could be impeached. Officials found that a section of one critical recording (potentially the most incriminating) had been wiped - accidentally, it was claimed.
In 18½ Minutes, writer Daniel Moya imagines what could have happened if a junior White House transcription secretary found herself in possession of that damning lost recording. Connie (Willa Fitzgerald) arranges to meet journalist Paul (John Magaro) to discuss the unattributable release of the recording. With Connie unwilling to hand over the tape, the pair agree to check in to a local motel to listen to the evidence. The hunt for a working reel-to-reel tape machine leads them into unwanted encounters with a preposterous group of radical hippies, an eccentric dance-obsessed retired couple, and the motel’s oddball owner.
Director Dan Mirvish, who devised the original story, renders a credible 1970s setting. But the film makes few accommodations for those unfamiliar with the Watergate story. More problematic is that Mirvish tries to meld a political thriller with a larger-than-life comedy: a decision that means that his cast’s performances are completely out of sync tonally. A jarring ending wraps up an unusual but underwhelming fictional flashback.
18½ MINUTES will be released on May 27th in US cinemas, and US VOD on July 5th. It will be released in the UK later in the year.