Friday, January 6, 2017

MOMENTUM II Launch & Casting the President

(unreleased 2008 poster)
BY EUGENE MICHAEL SCRIBNER
FANTASYWORKS/FIRST LOOK MOMENTUM II
     A highly ambitious US Senator (Michelle Pfeiffer), a tough-as-nails ex-warrior (Laurence Fishburne), and a charismatic tech mogul (Armie Hammer) are fighting for the presidential nomination. 
     That's the premise in Momentum II, a better-than-the-real-thing political thriller that answers the question: Just how far will candidates (and their families) go to get elected?
     As a Reality TV celebrity becomes president, the next political blockbuster gets the green light, intended for summer release. Here’s the basic plot: Fishburne (playing General Fred “The Fox” Oxhart) has just rescued POWs being held in Iran, but is falsely smeared as a war profiteer. Meanwhile, Pfeiffer (as Christine Norris Nichols) receives a sympathy bump after her airplane almost goes down, while Hammer (tycoon Nathan B. Crane) mobilizes the young at mass rallies with rousing stump speeches about change. The three are in a pitch battle for the presidential nomination.
     But neither of the candidates has enough delegates to seal the deal. And Michelle’s dad, Gene Hackman (as Ted Nichols), has a secret plan to win the White House. It's dream casting, courtesy of FantasyWorks, which has been working on the sequel since 2008.*
     The film opens during a brutal primary season, with the prospect of a brokered convention looming ahead, and rumors fly about Fishburne’s alleged connection with a private military company that has received diamond concessions in exchange for backing a fundamentalist rebellion in Africa. It’s not true, but Armie exploits the controversy to press his change agenda, arguing that both of his opponents represent an obsolete politics.
     The momentum is shifting. But Hackman is really behind the smear. He is determined to gain access to the White House for himself and secret Chinese backers.
     On the way to a campaign event, Michelle’s plane almost crashes. The mishap totally dominates cable news, drawing attention to her husband’s death and giving her a sympathy bump. When Internet rumors begin to circulate that her hubby was returning from a secret tryst when he died, the role of victim triumphing over adversity revives her flagging campaign. 

     Cut to the convention, where the tension reaches a fever pitch. Deeply offended by the attacks on his integrity Fishburne has doubts about whether to stay in the race. But he can’t decide whether to throw his support to Pfeiffer, whose bitter style bugs him, or Hammer, whom he blames for the smear and considers an undisciplined novice. 
     At a private meeting with the boy wonder Larry’s concerns deepen when Armie, who is literally armed with Internet tracking evidence, accuses Michelle’s camp of circulating the rumors. If the convention deadlocks Armie threatens to go public with the truth, even if it destroys the party’s chances of victory. "I WILL burn this village to save it!" he barks.
     The delegates are about to vote when the networks report that Michelle’s plane may actually have been sabotaged. Pandemonium engulfs the convention hall. Hackman immediately goes on TV, blaming the Iranians and suggesting that it may have been retaliation for Fishburne’s commando mission. He’s setting the stage for something even bigger: Larry’s assassination on live TV.
     But Armie’s cyber-snoops have been listening, and record Hackman meeting with his Chinese contact to green light the execution.
     Armed now with actual facts, Hammer confronts Michelle. At first she refuses to believe it, despite the video surveillance. But when she goes to Hackman he tells her to grow up and accept reality. “Politics ain’t beanbag,” he snaps. Admittedly, the writing is sometimes lame, just like real life. Anyway, Hackman is still bitter about his own fall from grace, despite the fact that the stories about his bizarre sexual practices were actually true.
     Pfeiffer tries to warn Fishburne, but the wheels are in motion and he narrowly escapes being shot during a press conference. Think 24. As father and daughter watch the mayhem on TV, she discovers that dad orchestrated her own near-death experience – and may even be behind her husband’s demise. He was, after all, in the way of Michelle’s rise. But there’s no time to apologize. Hackman knows that Fishburne will be coming for him and escapes in his private jet.
     The voting proceeds – until Michelle sends word that she’s withdrawing from the race. Her backers are furious until she delivers a Nixon-like farewell about getting beyond hate and not allowing yourself be used. The next night Hammer delivers his acceptance speech, asking the delegates to choose Fishburne as his running mate. Armie has realized that making change means more than giving great rhetoric.
     Four months later Armie -- an obvious nod to new "masters of the universe" like Mark Zuckerberg -- wins the race. Alone in his mansion, Hackman watches the returns. Outside, two assassins infiltrate the property. Realizing he’s done, Gene has a drink and looks at a scrapbook of better days with his daughter. 
     At the victory party Armie hoists his running mate’s arm for the traditional victory photo. A single gunshot. And Larry flashes a smile that says “mission accomplished.” Snap! And fade to credits. 
     Fishburne also delivers a catch phrase. During his showdown with Armie, he answers the threat of candor with this: “The truth? Boo-coo inconvenient.”
BONUS: Casting the next chapter
     Momentum II raises the question of just what it takes to be president. As it stands, the job seems to revolve around persuading mass audiences to believe whatever you say – regardless of what you know or what is true – and making a series of dubious plot twists credible. Electability is certainly important, but believability is what makes you electable.
   Considering all that, actors appear to have the edge and we might be better off putting one of them, rather than some less-than-convincing public official, in the White House. We’ve already had an actor in the role, Ronald Reagan, who certainly knew how to sustain audience appeal and sell almost anything – from Borax to Star Wars. And now we have a practiced celebrity with money and media experience.  
    For a while we had an actor in the 2008 race, Fred Thompson. He had even played a president, although it was Ulysses Grant in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. But Thompson's problem was that he couldn’t stick with the script, and also seemed less than committed to the part.
    For Momentum III: After Judgement Day -- not to mention the presidency itself -- an actor who has already played a fictional president may be the best choice. That would provide experience dealing with a crisis that has not happened yet. Is that leadership, instinct or just improvisation? Who can say. But Bill Pullman did save us from an alien invasion in Independence Day, and Harrison Ford faced off terrorists in Air Force One. Those were terrifying times. Or how about John Travolta? He played a fictional Bill Clinton and can actually fly a plane.
     Martin Sheen once looked destined for the role. In The Dead Zone he played a presidential candidate whom Christopher Walken foresaw blowing up the planet. Years later Sheen was back as the most popular president in TV history on The West Wing. The man had definitely learned from “experience.” 
     Other prospects, all of whom have actually played President at some point, include Sam Waterston, Jimmy Smits, Alan Alda, Tom Selleck, William Petersen, Tim Robbins, Michael Douglas, Rip Torn, Robert Duval, Michael Keaton, James Brolin, Billy Bob Thornton, James Crowley, the Quaid brothers, Jeff and Beau Bridges, and even Kris Kristofferson.
     Some are past their box office sales date. But what about Tom Hanks and George Clooney, both A-list and positioned well to make the leap. If Arnold can be governor, anything is possible  Send suggestions to FantasyWorks, att. to Momentum's Project Acting Chief (MomPAC).  
     How about a Black president? Try James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Rock or Dennis Haysbert. Anyway you slice it, we’d be in good hands. Sorry about the plug. Product placement. 
     The supply of women candidates is a bit limited -- but growing. Julianne Moore almost crashed the glass ceiling as Sarah Palin on HBO's Game Change. We should also count Meryl Streep, who nailed an Oscar as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady -- despite a flawed script.  
     But let's not forget that Geena Davis kicked ass on Commander in Chief – and won a Golden Globe “endorsement” for Best Actress. Glenn Close, Patty Duke, Patricia Wettig … they all have relevant role experience, plus the acting chops. And they’ve been vetted in the spotlight. 
     Think of it this way: The Presidency has become a contract to perform on the biggest stage of all, and the role requires star quality, authenticity, a gift for conveying emotion and rapport, plus an instinct for improvisation and adapting to public taste. If that's you, auditions are being held. 
     Restricting the field to political professionals clearly hasn't worked out. What do they know about social media, building a fan base, staying in character and seducing the camera?
    Isn't it time to try someone who can handle the part! 
ORIGINALLY DEVELOPED 2008/FW/MM/MOMENTUMII
* 2/26/12 Press Release / Poster: Momentum II background  
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