Primary Colors

Bomb Rating: 

"Primary Colors" pretends it's brilliant by eschewing such political specifics as "issues" and "ideologies" in favor of simply characterizing the whole political climate as "slimy." Now there's a revelation sure to stun your average zoo animal.

As Bill Clinton's exploits have been the media's hot-button issue lately, "Primary Colors" has caused quite an overreaction, providing a convenient means to occupy pundits until the next commercial break. Oh, look, everyone is saying, John Travolta is Bill Clinton and he's here to say something thoughtful about the American political system. Think again.

Director Mike ("The Graduate") Nichols pees into a little plastic baggie that hangs from his hip. In the new world of modern political commentary he fancies himself a gunslinger. It's a better bet, however, that Mike lost control of his bladder due to cowardice. How else do you explain going through an entire movie about politics and not hearing the word "liberal," "conservative," "Republican" or "Democrat"? This film is intentionally -- and absurdly -- apolitical because it doesn't want to offend anybody or take any real stands on any real issues -- just like our touchy-feely President.

"Primary Colors" pretends it's brilliant by eschewing such political specifics as "issues" and "ideologies" in favor of simply characterizing the whole political climate as "slimy." Now there's a revelation sure to stun your average zoo animal. We find out it's "slimy" by following idealistic young politico Henry (Adrian Lester), whose sincere (if apolitical) "I wanna make a difference" speeches earn him a position as campaign manager for apolitical Jack Stanton (John Travolta) and his apolitical wife, Susan (Emma Thompson). Then, it's right to the business of Stanton being an adulterer and doing just about anything short of murder to cover it up.

Critics, inexplicably, have been heaping praise on screenwriter Elaine May who, in addition to sucking the life out of the James Carville (Billy Bob Thornton) character, deftly flushes the whole film down the toilet by focusing the third act almost exclusively on Henry and another Stanton confidante (Kathy Bates). Hello, the movie is about the Stantons, not their lackeys. That's why you've got them big stars in them big roles. Then, as suddenly as a train wreck, May decides the movie should stop being cute and try to say something. Ultimately, it amounts to a typical Democratic whitewash -- don't scream from the rafters about anything that really matters, just apologize for the things you can't change.

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