(director: Sidney Lumet; screenwriter: David Himmelstein; cinematographer: Andrzej Bartkowiak; editor: Andrew Mondshein; music: Cy Coleman; cast: Richard Gere (Pete St. John), Julie Christie (Ellen Freeman), Gene Hackman (Wilfred Buckley), Denzel Washington (Arnold Billings), E. G. Marshall (Senator Sam Hastings), Kate Capshaw (Sydney Betterman), Beatrice Straight (Claire Hastings), Fritz Weaver (Wallace Furman, governor candidate in New Mexico), J.T. Walsh (Jerome Cade, running for senator in Ohio), Michael Learned(Gov. Andrea Standard of Washington), Matt Salinger (Phillip Aarons, Independent Ohio Senatorial Candidate), Tom Mardirosian(Sheikh); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Reene Schisgal/Mark Tarlov; Warners; 1986)

“A misfire satire that preaches against slick political practices by high-powered political consultants.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A misfire satire that preaches against slick political practices by high-powered political consultants, which seems disingenuous since the film doesn’t practice what it preaches (even if the filmmaker’s heart is in the right place and his concern is for the public’s welfare, the film is as slick and artificial as the political consultants it exposes). It covers such things as the corruption in the media and how easy it is to fool the public by packaging a candidate (not anything that should be surprising, unless you’ve been living in Mars for the last 50 years). It’s written by David Himmelsteinand directed bySidney Lumet (“The Verdict”/”12 Angry Men”/”Serpico”) as if it had the latest scoop on the Beltway and couldn’t wait to get it off their chest. Unfortunately their news is old news.

Pete St. John (Richard Gere)is an unprincipled high-priced consultant for any politician, if he’s got the dough to pay for his polished services. Through Pete’s shark-like eyes we watch him try to prop up a stiff newcomer millionaire gubernatioral candidate in New Mexico named Furman (Fritz Weaver), win re-election for Washington’s stalwart governor Andrea Standard (Michael Learned) with smart political ads, and when his beloved difference maker client Senator Sam Hastings (E. G. Marshall) doesn’t run for office again in Ohio–Pete is hired to be the political consultant for suspicious industrialist newcomer Jerome Cade (J.T. Walsh). He’s running to replace Hastings, but with a different energy policy and is backed secretly by the Arab oil cartels.

Stealth Washington lobbyist Arnold Billings (Denzel Washington) works for the Arab oilmen sheiks and they are motivated to get their man Cade in office so he can do their bidding and are willing to use all the dirty tricks in the trade to get him elected.

As expected Pete’s cynicism is lost before the third reel ends when he finds he can’t stomach working for the unethical Cade and quits, supposedly returning to his idealistic roots as he now supports his hard-luck principled consultant mentor Wilfred Buckley (Gene Hackman). He’s someone Pete abandoned to become rich, but now backs his mentor’s long-shot independent idealistic and solar energy supporter Ohio senatorial candidate Professor Arons (Matt Salinger).Unfortunately nothing is convincing in this shoddily made film that squanders its talented all-star cast with inconsequential roles. The most wasted talent is Julie Christie, who sits around in a few scenes as Gere’s ex-wife investigative journalist and shoots the breeze with her ex. Despite coming up with the scandal story of the election year, the soft-hearted Christie decides to sit on that story to protect Hastings’ honorable reputation and stays around for the rest of the pic to befriend Gere and, perhaps, show us that all divorces don’t have to end with ill-feelings.

In the end, everything it set up politically falls apart because its storyline is weak, its direction is uncertain, and its political lessons come off as sanctimonious mush. It’s nevertheless, maybe, enjoyable for those who think most politicians are horse’s asses.

REVIEWED ON 4/29/2011 GRADE: C   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/