Have you seen the latest Hollywood blockbuster? I know you have. You can't miss it. This one has it all, the prisoner of war maverick who wants to reform the establishment, the overachieving Harvard Law graduate who wants to unite the country in hope and change, and of course the gorgeous hockey-mom ice queen who wants to "shake things up" in Washington. This fall's blockbuster has been in production for four years, and kicked off in August and September with opening night screenings in both Denver, and Minneapolis.
The film was made possible by generous corporations looking for an easy return on their investment at the box-office. Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Citigroup and the now bankrupt Merrill Lynch all contributed at least $500,000 to the big budget film. Nearly every top pharmaceutical company and investment banking giant have contributed to the 680 million dollar price tag of the film they are calling, The 2008 Presidential Election. You may recall The 2004 Election, and The 2000 Election, both of which were written and directed by Karl Rove. Both movies, of course, got terrible reviews. With so much hype and an insultingly large budget, could The 2008 Election live up to expectations? More importantly, will savvy investors turn a profit at the box-office? While we wait for answers to these questions, let's take a fair and balanced look at The 2008 Election.
Hollywood has spared nothing in this modern political drama about two men's competition for power and influence. Which one will save the country from imminent world war, economic bankruptcy, and the complete destruction of the constitution? One candidate is a 71 year old Arizona Senator with a war record and a reputation as a straight talker who is not afraid to reform Washington. His contender is a handsome, swashbuckling senator from Chicago who promises hope, change, and healthcare. Sadly, both candidates in The 2008 Election fail to identify with the audience.
In an effort to appeal to every demographic in the country, ultimately, they appeal to none of us. The audience can't possibly identify with the liberal, fast-talking Harvard lawyer, or with the overly simplified, overly wealthy 71 year old war veteran. However, the real problem with the candidates is that both men try way too hard to have substance and identify with the common American. Compared to these guys Will Farrell has substance. In one scene, the candidates talk about the American flag pins on their suits for a week straight! Who are they kidding? What this film really needs is a bad guy, a boogie man the candidates can challenge, an evil that instills fear in the audience.
Enter Osama Bin Laden. This guy is so evil, one candidate exclaims that he would "go to the gates of hell" to track him down! Osama speaks in a foreign tongue, wears robes, lives in a cave, and hates freedom. Unfortunately, the Osama character is terribly cliche. Is the audience supposed to believe that Osama really "hates freedom" and that he coordinates attacks around the world from his hideout in a cave? Oddly, the evil of Osama wears off by the end of the movie, as if the filmmakers didn't have the attention span to keep up the story-line. The only explanation is that the filmmakers meant Osama as a "MacGuffin" created by Alfred Hitchcock: a plot device designed to draw the viewers' attention initially, but is left so ambiguous that by the end of the film it is virtually irrelevant. Having failed at injecting substance, or a meaningful bad-guy into the story line, The 2008 Election finally resorts to the last refuge device for filmmakers, the lowest common denominator to attract an audience.
Enter the pretty girl. In her acting debut, the Alaskan beauty pageant mom looks to bring her folksy charm to the big screen. The Chicago Tribune writes, "She was gracious, charming and disarming. Men swooned. Pakistan's president wanted to hug her." My review is a little more cerebral: She is predictable, oversimplified and alarming. I am not swooning. Pakistan's president will laugh at her.
Like any big budget Hollywood blockbuster, The 2008 Election has all the necessary trappings; Powerful men with big egos who compete for even more power, a bad guy from a distant land who is easy to hate, and a pretty girl with a signature look who talks straight and simple. But the film suffers from the same disease of any big budget production. There is too little substance, underdeveloped characters, and a predictable story line.
I give The 2008 Election five thumbs down. This film was doomed before the first actor was hired. When investors have too much control over the content of the film, the end result is a film forced, faked, contrived, and utterly unrealistic. The characters lack substance, the bad guy is too cliche, and the pretty girl fails to impress beyond her looks.
However, the box-office profit will no doubt be record breaking. After all, the film enjoys the most genius marketing campaign of any movie ever made. They have managed to make Americans sincerely believe that watching this film will change the world, that one act of choosing between these two candidates every four years will change the world more than a million acts of civic duty in their communities.
Unfortunately for us, we have no choice but to watch this movie. The 2008 Election is on every night, on every channel, in every newspaper and on every radio station, and I'm the only one giving it bad reviews.