Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Bill Guttentag's KNIFE FIGHT hits theatres & VOD: Politics makes typical bedfellows

Was there really a time when the statement, "Politics makes strange bedfellows," seemed at all surprising? These days, one would be hard put to think of any bedfellow, no matter how bizarre, as out of the realm not just of possibility but of probability, nay, expectation. Ah, well: Whatever it takes, matey!

These thoughts, among others, came to mind while watching the new political, feel-good comedy KNIFE FIGHT, directed and co-written (with political consultant Chris Lehane) by Bill Guttentag, shown below, who has made a number of documentaries over the past many years, from Crack USA: County Under Seige to the more recent Nanking.

Among the good things about Knife Fight is that is gives the usually pleasurable and always photogenic Rob Lowe (on poster above and in the four final stills, below) his best movie role in years, as Paul Turner, a political consultant/strategist most often involved in getting his candidates out of the hot water of scandal and into the political office of their choice.

Sometimes this means getting them into office for the first time  -- as in the case of the beautiful female physician practicing in a low-income San Francisco community who decides to run

for governor (she's played by Carrie-Anne Moss, above) -- or keeping them in office when they're cocksmen extraordinaire, and all too willing to destructively prove this to their muse of the mo-ment. Two examples of the latter would be the Kentucky governor with intern problems (who brings to mind John Edwards and Bill Clinton) played by a Southern-accented Eric McCormack (below), and the California senator (David Harbour) currently being blackmailed by a very ambitious little blond masseuse.

On Paul's team are an adorable and smart assistant, played by Jamie Chung, and a charmingly seedy, older operative (Richard Schiff). This savvy threesome seems enough to ensure continued success. What makes the movie an example of feel-good comedy is the notion, put forward by Paul and brought to fruition by the filmmakers, that whatever it takes to win is somehow appropriate and fair game, so long as the candidate you are working for is the "good guy" -- or at least the ever-present "lesser of two evils."

This, of course, completely ignores our current-and-growing-worse-with-each-election political process, in which money in the form of political contributions continues to buy elections, so that no matter which candidate wins, decisions that affect the general populace badly but are to the benefit of the wealthy and corporate continue to be made. This renders the simple-minded attitude of Paul and his team more than faintly ridiculous. 

The reality that Knife Fight gives us is the shallow, superficial variety that fits right in with our current comedy mode of appearing to tell the truth while simply plying on the feel-good. Sure, it's believable, so far as it goes, which is maybe halfway down the block. That said, the movie is often immensely enjoyable, thanks to its clever plotting; quick, funny dialog; and performances that are spot-on in just about every case.

Look for Modern Family's Julie Bowen (above, right) in the role of the reporter happy to play either side of the street, so long as there's a good story for her; Jennifer Morrison, very funny as the masseuse from hell; and the always welcome Saffron Burrows as McCormack's hell-of-a-lot-better half. If I wish Knife Fight were a lot better, too, and I do, it's only because of movies like last year's Grassroots, which so beautifully gave us the ups and downs of real politics on a community level, or -- as a more distant example -- Mike Nichols' superb but under-rated adaptation, Primary Colors, which offered up the Clintons like nothing else has captured them before or since. 

This new movie, from IFC Films and running 103 minutes, opens Friday, January 25, in New York at the IFC Center, and in the Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Noho 7.  Starting January 28, the film will be available to view on VOD, iTunes, Sundance Now, XBOX, Playstation, Amazon, Google Play and You Tube.

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