Friday, June 5, 2015

Presidential Death Match: Past Hits & Misses

Films and TV programs mentioned: For a Few Barrels More, Post-Millennium Man, The Mild Bunch, You Go, Girl!, Wesley Clark's Full Mental Jacket, Terminator 4: The Last Action Mayor, There Will Be God, The Rad Couple II, Return of the Candidate, Being Mike Huckabee, and Mission Improbable

Every four years it's the same sad mixture of sequels and remakes, worn-out story lines and stale formulas known collectively as Presidential Death Match programming. In 2004, for example, you may not have heard but George Bush and Charlton Heston were slated to team up for Fistful of Mullah II: The Arms Race, a sequel to Bush’s 2000 hit, A Fistful of Mullah. The new story line was expected to revolve around bringing compassion back into the death business. But Heston died in pre-production and a more powerful premise emerged. The result:

For a Few Barrels More   The Man with No Scruples (Bush) is back in this epic western sequel, set in an atmosphere of global war and domestic division. The Man prevails by ignoring the problems, preferring to search for illusive (aka non-existent) enemies, the Evildoers, foes so insane they reject his offer to surrender their oil reserves and get off the planet. (AMC, in technicolor)

Post-Millennium Man  Howard Dean leads a cyber-crusade to save the Democratic Party, driven underground by the masters of the Matrix. In an early scene, Al Gore reprises his role as the Chosen One (now in exile) from the sci fi hit Millennium Man, uniting with Bill Bradley and other survivors of the 2000 electoral apocalypse. There were strong early reviews, but hostile notices from Iowa set the stage for a meltdown. (Sci Fi, mini-series)

The Mild Bunch   Battle-scarred congressional vets – John Kerry, Dick Gephardt, and Joe Lieberman – are joined by a gung-ho rookie, the glib and glamorous John Edwards. Their mission: save their party from Howard Dean, here cast in the role of a renegade general who has created his own insurgent army, the Deaniacs. In an early episode, Gephardt sings Yesterday, exposing the depth of his disillusionment as he confesses to being “nostalgic for Ronald Reagan.” In their Iowa caper, he is the first casualty. Once Dean is vanquished, however, the bunch promptly turns on one another. (Spike)

You Go, Girl!  A short-lived Carol Mosley Braun vehicle, based on Working Girl. In this comedy-drama, Braun makes a bold, occasionally refreshing play to break the glass ceiling. She can’t close the deal but does manage a partial redemption. (Lifetime)

And a late entry: Wesley Clark’s Full Mental Jacket  A cautionary anti-war tale about the rise of rebellious general. After leading the attack on Yugoslavia and pimping for Team Bush, the general has second thoughts, becomes a Democrat, and immediately runs for President. With cameos by Michael Moore and George McGovern as progressive camouflage. Industry talk said that it was actually a Clinton production. (Cinemax)

In 2008 there were more memorable hits and misses... 

Terminator 4: The Last Action Mayor (from 9/11 Productions)  Rudy Giuliani attempts to bull his way into the nomination by scaring the public as often as possible and bypassing the early primaries. Unfortunately, he doesn’t send a duplicate Rudy back from the future to warn him that it won’t work. (Fox)

There Will Be God   Mitt Romney plays a no-nonsense manager with religious baggage, unnervingly confident and yet undone by his chameleon past. We keep waiting for the real Mitt to show up, but in the end even he can’t find himself. (HBO)

The Rad Couple II, starring Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul. It’s become a genre over the decades, usually based on the feisty outsider story line. In 2000, Kucinich teamed up with Al Sharpton for the first installment of the franchise – buddy-pols on the road to nowhere. Forced to work together, two very different candidates find common ground as they take on their toughest case – saving the country’s soul. Kucinich and Sharpton were amusing and passionate, but the reviews were skeptical. The ratings were abysmal. (ABC)

But the best comeback vehicle may have been Return of the Candidate  A lightweight in the 2004 season, John Edwards exceeds expectations, yet can’t overcome his image as a southern fried Robert Redford. The reality TV follow up gets a little too real. (Sundance)

Best mini-series? Being Mike Huckabee   Based on a Jerzy Kosinski book and a Peter Sellers movie, a spaced-out oddball keeps getting listened to because people think he’s pleasant and has some down-home wisdom. He actually knows very little and has a mean streak; But he really likes being on TV. The joke gets old and people stop watching. (VH1)

This season they’re bringing Magical Mike back, this time with a quirky Charlie Kaufman script; various people go through a portal into Huckabee's head, then get dumped on a dirt road in rural Arkansas.

And finally, who can forget that 2000 cult hit...? 

Mission Improbable   Produced by Oddball Enterprises in association with a consortium of casino owners and the World Wrestling Federation. To save the world, a team of decorated misfits wages psychological warfare on the major political parties. The problem: they can't stop trashing each other. Ross Perot makes a guest appearance as the cranky team leader who gives incomprehensible assignments and can't help upstaging his own men. (CBS)

So, stay tuned. The new season is just getting started.

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