The Contender (2000)

THE CONTENDER, a horribly titled political drama that sounds more like 
a boxing flick, is a long, loquacious, star-studded sit about an Ohio
senator and first-ever female VP appointee (Joan Allen) trying to sur-
vive a confirmation hearing-turned-witch hunt.  Nude photos are the 
first to surface-- on the Internet, of course-- from a college-era 
"group encounter" complete with explicit (if brief) flashbacks and "R" 
rated-worthy references.  (If you're under-quota for oral-sex descrip-
tions, this is the movie for you.)  Some of the verbal vulgarisms are, 
in fact, downright howl-worthy.  That's a good thing, too, 'cause this 
one's glaringly under-humored.  (Cute running gag, I'll admit, with 
Jeff Bridge's Chief Executive trying to catch the First Kitchen off 
guard.)  Preachy, at times, too.  Writer/director Rod Lurie shoehorns 
in none-too-subtle comments on school prayer, abortion, and even Bill 
Clinton's Monica matter.  Now, the icing on this increasingly unappet-
izing, red-white-and-blue cake are several scenes of supposed rever-
ence.  You know, honoring democracy or former presidents or some shit 
like that.  And with swelling, dramatic music to nil effect.

Thank the stars for a compelling cast.  Familiar faces lurk around 
every 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue corner-- Sam Elliott rumbling White 
House walls here, our favorite Henry Kissinger impersonator Saul 
Rubinek (see DICK) there.  Best of the lawyer-looking bunch is Gary 
Oldman, who also executive produced.  He plays the villain-- now 
there's a stretch!-- the hearing committee chair from Illinois who 
wears thick, black, Clark Kent-style glasses and frequently has his 
scenes stolen by a hairdo that resembles, well, a pubic hair-patched 
cue ball.  (Rejected getup from THE GRINCH?)  If the Actress Formerly 
Known as Mrs. Nixon is a thankless presence, helplessly batted around 
by the plot, Oldman is its (intermittently) energetic core.  He che-
erily chews on any scenery in sight, though unexpectedly *under*play-
ing at times.  His energy explodes in thick of things, toward the end 
and notably during a high-volume exchange on rights to life.  

Regrettably, the movie is nowhere *near* as engaging.  I mean, the 
very first, oh-come-on-now scene sets the harsh, skeptical, and oft-
sleazy tone.  And it persists-- a reeking sort of phoniness that ne-
gates any positive reaction on the part of the viewer.  (Sorta like a 
politician's speech, eh?)  A talky script doesn't help, either.  Yak 
yak yak and, for reasons known only to the screenwriter, with about 
fifteen-dozen confusing names thrown-around.  Huh?  Forget *feeling* 
for these characters, you can't even understand what the Hell they're 
*thinking*.  Flat, hollow, and utterly unmoving.  [ Insert own Bush/
Gore debate joke here ]  But, boy, it sure is fun to watch Oldman and 
Company strut their stuff!  Also, those sensitive to schmaltz should 
consider leaving right before the big, fuzzy, coconut oil-popped corn-
all ending.  You may Ralph.  With Robin Thomas, Mike Binder, William 
Petersen, and Christian Slater, who still looks a teenager, despite a 
persistent five-o'clock shadow.  Wonder if he's shaving yet?  (Rated 
"R"/125 min.)

Grade: C

Copyright 2000 by Michael J. Legeros
Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted to triangle.movies as MOVIE HELL: Coulda Been

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Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros -Movie Hell™ is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros