November 17, 1995 in Seven

‘American President’ Is Change Of Character For Douglas

Michael H. Price Fort Worth Star-Telegram
 

Call him Norman Rockwell with a camera, and an agenda: For better than a decade now, Rob Reiner has been Hollywood’s most productively polarized filmmaker.

A liberal in political terms but an arch-conservative in terms of plain filmmaking technique, Reiner has artfully used these bearings to infiltrate the entertainment mainstream with notions of kindliness and common decency that might get short shrift in films of more “artistic” pretensions. “When Harry Met Sally …” and “The Princess Bride” are typical of Reiner’s well-received pleasantries.

His new one, “The American President,” is Reiner’s most upbeat effort yet, and it deserves to become a hit, if only for the generous opportunity it provides to see Michael Douglas break loose from erotic-thriller typecasting.

Douglas has the title role, playing a chief executive in the style of an idealized Kennedy. A widower with a daughter to raise, President Andrew Shepherd (Douglas) is distracted from his pursuit of difficult human-rights legislation by the arrival of Annette Bening. She is intense and witty as a hot-shot environmental lobbyist who reawakens the chief’s romantic interests.

Their dating, of course, makes irresistible bait for the Capitol Hill gossips. This wholesome, hesitant romance ignites a vicious assault on Shepherd by Republican grouch Bob Rumson (played by Richard Dreyfuss), who uses the courtship as an example of collapsed “family values” within the very heart of the government.

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who worked with Reiner two years ago on “A Few Good Men,” has come up with a sufficiently novel concept. But he and Reiner deepen the situation with realistic, characterizing dialogue (as opposed to clever chatter), a sense of urgency underlying the basically lighthearted yarn, and as true a portrayal of Washington protocol as the screen has seen.

The scenario is just lifelike enough to make the audience wonder: Who are these guys supposed to be based on?

Actually, the picture is pure what-if? fiction, but most viewers will have their own ideas of what life-models might have been used. The chief antagonist is easy enough to guess - a Gingrich? a Dole? a Gramm? - but the president himself is a stumper. Probably no chief executive in history has had so unsullied a personal background as Douglas’ squeaky-clean politico.

MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. “THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT” Location: Lincoln Heights and Newport cinemas Credits: Directed by Rob Reiner; starring Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Michael J. Fox Running time: 1:55 Rating: PG-13

2. OTHER VIEW Here’s what another critic says about “The American President:” Jay Boyar/Orlando Sentinel: The president at the center of “The American President” is a lot like Bill Clinton. And the movie itself is a bit like Clinton too. Unabashedly populist. Vaguely liberal. Very big on promises. Not so big on following through.

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. “THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT” Location: Lincoln Heights and Newport cinemas Credits: Directed by Rob Reiner; starring Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Michael J. Fox Running time: 1:55 Rating: PG-13

2. OTHER VIEW Here’s what another critic says about “The American President:” Jay Boyar/Orlando Sentinel: The president at the center of “The American President” is a lot like Bill Clinton. And the movie itself is a bit like Clinton too. Unabashedly populist. Vaguely liberal. Very big on promises. Not so big on following through.


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