Though the title suggests a Max Headroom–style John F. Kennedy head on a movie screen, gamely taking questions from the audience, the truth of Virtual JFK is much less sexy. By "virtual," the movie means "alternate history," like the fun recent mockumentary C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America or 2006's heavy-handed George W. Bush snuff film Death of a President. So on those grounds, the title should really be something like What if JFK Wasn't Assassinated in 1963?

But that's not right, either, because all the documentary does is suggest, using six actual examples from his presidency, that JFK probably wouldn't have gotten us involved further in Vietnam. And then it explains how Lyndon Johnson did get us involved in Vietnam. I have never seen a film's marketing and self-classification so completely misidentify its own content.

That said, it's an admirably concise explanation of how and why we came to be involved in Vietnam, and that's saying something: After Watergate, Vietnam is probably the toughest recent historical event to contextually explain to people who weren't there. And the lengthy scenes showing a nervous, and at times petulant, Kennedy taking a beating from the press during a few briefings are an illuminating suggestion of what's likely to come in the first year of an Obama presidency. Watching JFK—who we usually only see onscreen as a confident, smiling, young buck of a president—actually struggle with the nuances of his job is almost refreshing.

Ultimately, this movie wants to be a whole heck of a lot: a polemic against the Iraq war, an argument for putting an intelligent man in the Oval Office, and a reconsideration of our belief that our involvement in Vietnam was inevitable. But it's too late for the first two causes, and it succeeds only at the latter ambition, making it a must-see movie event only for serious 1960s policy wonks. recommended