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Comedy without laughs. "Satire" might be the optimistically preferred word of the director, co-writer, and star, Warren Beatty, and he might want to add, for commercial as well as critical purposes, the immediate qualifier of "Capra-esque." (The presence of the name Frank Capra III in both the opening and the closing credits -- Co-Producer and First Assistant Director, respectively -- fairly forces that adjective upon us.) For reasons never remotely made plain, apart from the ten-million-dollar life insurance policy made out to a daughter we never meet, the incumbent U.S. Senator from California (Dem.) takes out a contract on his own life on the virtual eve of the election, and for the remaining days of the campaign he veers off onto the uncharted political path of telling the unvarnished truth: e.g., telling a congregation of black constituents that they don't contribute sufficient cash to his campaign to merit more than empty promises, daring them to vote Republican, and so on. As near as we can tell, he is motivated more by mental breakdown than by savvy strategy, but this being a movie rather than real life, he shoots ahead in the polls anyway, even when, after passing a night in a black disco (where he is mistaken for George Hamilton: one of the movie's better gags), he metamorphoses into a pale simulacrum of a South Central homey: knit cap, shades, short pants or long shorts or whatever they'd be called, and the rhyming rhythmical pattern of speech of a rap artist. Beatty the actor, a murmurer, a mutterer, a teeth-gritter, is not terribly adept at the "gangsta" poetic meter: it takes more than nerve. But that's just part of the mirthless joke. And however stout your defenses against the battering ram of rap, however ready you are to glaze over at the sound of it, the preachiness behind all this cannot fail to come through. In an all-enveloping testament to Beatty's personal vanity and artistic pretension (and total lack of a sense of humor), he has enlisted Vittorio Storaro to do the delicate, faded, algae-tinged photography. The effect is rather as if a stand-up comedian were to perform his routine from behind a scrim of filet crochet. Halle Berry, Oliver Platt, Don Cheadle. (1998) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated R | 1 hour, 48 minutes
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