'Contender' is just contentious

by Philip David Leaman | 10/18/00 5:00am

Pretend that I know absolutely nothing about politics (which does not require much stretch of the imagination) and take this commentary to heart, "The Contender" is the most appalling film I have seen this year. It was ever so much worse then "X-Men," "Coyote Ugly," or "Almost Famous;" films that by their own right cast me into states of deep unyielding depression.

The basic premise of the film centers on the controversial vice-presidential nomination of Senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen). Controversial because of her female gender and controversial because political muckrakers reveal scandalous photos of Hanson involved in group sex.

There are too many flaws to point out, but I will concentrate on the important ones.

First, a freshman gangbang at Harvard? Please, those pretentious bastards can only get it up when they are drooling over the latest copy of the New Yorker or some other pseudo-intellectual publication. To suggest that anyone there has enough savvy, let alone sex appeal, to pull off a gangbang is ludicrous to me.

Second, that Rod Luri thought he could base a whole movie on the dynamics of a confirmation hearing, is a testimony to how full of himself he really is. I wonder if he has ever seen a confirmation hearing?

I have. My father refused me food and water and bludgeoned me with a pall-peen hammer until I agreed to watch the Clarence Thomas hearings with him. They really are amazingly dull, and you can catch all the exciting parts on the evening news, but for some reason Luri decided he would try to make them interesting and even throw in some misguided political commentary to boot.

The dialog flows like a political junkie's wet dream. Every sentence prefaces itself with some wildly inappropriate quote, such as "Thomas Jefferson once said" and "As Ben Franklin himself once stated." Even Napoleon quips were misused, probably because they ran out of American heroes midway through the film and had to look elsewhere.

The jokes are equally lame. The president (Jeff Bridges) kids around after a gutter ball, "that is what I get for my left leaning tendencies." A political aid refuses a soda, commenting that "any more caffeine and I'll start supporting the flat tax."

The overacting, omnipresent smug expressions from political punks, poor directing and weak plot drove me crazy. The ending becomes immediately apparent within the first five minutes of the movie, so if you are one of those people who always feel left out because everyone got the ending before you did, see this movie and feel better about yourself.

The character vilification borders on outrageousness. Does anyone really believe in clear-cut politics, where there is a definitive good force fighting against a hypocritical evil force? While not my party of affiliation, All Republicans are not conniving woman haters whose wives had abortions without their knowledge.

And what was Christian Slater's character even doing throughout the movie? He sits around with a big stupid grin on his face. Great, so inexperienced politicians fail to comprehend the significance of their actions, what insight. We get to listen to three different people comment on his youth and expess understanding for his bumbling because he does not quite understand yet.

Luri drops the predictable ending on the audience in huge rank chunks and expects them to be amazed at the cleverness of his film and how everything fits together. There is no greater commentary than Democrats are good and Republicans are goofy-looking repulsive jerks trying to kill the "Temple of Democracy."

The unapologetic use of that term throughout the entire ending would normally set me off, but it fit so well into the themes of poor writing/directing. I flipped off the screen during the credits as my personal salute to this debacle.

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