'President' a 113 - minute dose of lithium

By Jon Roig

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Obnoxious relatives of unknown origin and relation, a reddish Jello-like substance that has something to do with that rockin' band from Ireland that sings "Zombie," an inexplicable mix of marshmallows and sweet potatoes, and a half-cooked and breaded flightless bird such are the foul things that Holidays are made of.

So, among all the madness and insanity of our modern existence, it's nice to find a family-oriented oasis away from the turbulence of the season. That happy and far off place has a name, and Rob Reiner (of Spinal Tap fame) has chosen to call it "The American President."

Seeing the film is a lot like being on a 113-minute dose of lithium and feelin' groovy the whole trip. The movie has no down parts, but oddly, it also fails to yield any hearty belly laughs. It's cute, but not repulsively so. It's a date movie, but not necessarily a "chick flick." My Mom loved it, and I bet Bill Clinton did too .

President Andrew Shepherd's (Michael Douglas) administration bears more than a passing resemblance to our current one. He tries to be a nice and moral guy, he dodged the draft and went to a nice private school, shows liberal tendencies, and he has a teenage daughter that was obviously modeled on our own First Daughter.

Only, he lost his wife to cancer three years previously. She was his one and only love. Now, with high approval ratings, he has begun his re-election campaign for a second term in office. The only thing that could mess it up is romance.

Enter Sydney Wade (Annette Bening), a young and enthusiastic environmental lobbyist working for a political action committee. The result is a Washington fairy tale, where the bad guys are the evil Republicans (armed with rhetoric modeled on Bob Dole and Rush Limbaugh), and only the idealistic and somewhat left-leaning Democrats can carry the day.

The colorful supporting cast of pollsters and spin doctors expose the inner workings of the political machine. Michael J. Fox makes his big screen return as an idealistic speechwriter, while the egg-head political consultant (David Paymer), lively personal assistant (Anna Deavere Smith) and straight-shooting chief of staff (Martin Sheen) keep the plot moving along and inject enough cynicism and humor to keep the film from transforming from a profile of a Democrat president to an all out love-in.

The plot is simple and doesn't interfere with the story. President meets girl. Girl is somewhat intimidated about dating the most powerful man in the free world. President breaks date to order a strategic retaliatory airstrike against Libya. Big Chief No Fun, the opposition candidate, makes the relationship into a campaign issue. Girl feels uncomfortable. And the film dares to ask the pressing question of what would happen if the President tried to be a normal guy for part of his life. Apparently, he has a lot of trouble ordering flowers.

The consummation of all this is a fluffy and light political comedy not as hard-hitting as Tim Robbins' brilliant "Bob Roberts," but effective in expressing its opposition to the "Republican Revolution" nonetheless. And it's fun for the whole family.

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