The American President

on November 17, 1995 by Wade Major
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   Playing more like a two-hour commercial for Bill Clinton's reelection campaign than a movie, Rob Reiner's "The American President" nevertheless marks a successful return to form for the director following his heading south with "North." With a script by his "A Few Good Men" scribe Aaron Sorkin, this Castle Rock production is essentially a by-the-numbers Hollywood romance in the dopiest melodramatic tradition, unique only insofar as the lovesick lad is the U.S. president, Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas), a popular widower enjoying record approval ratings as campaign number two nears. Problems arise, though, when Shepherd begins wooing a firebrand environmental lobbyist, Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening), and rabble-rousing Republican challenger Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss) uses this morals trump card to sway public opinion against the commander in chief.
   While there's almost nothing here that audiences haven't seen before, the novelty of building a romance around the leader of the free world keeps "The American President" afloat longer than it deserves. But the film derails when a contrived crime bill subplot funnels the romance into the background and sets the stage for some embarrassingly ill-advised political sermonizing from the film-makers. On this point, Reiner & Co. would have done well to take a page from Ivan Reitman's subtler and less partisan "Dave." Instead, "The American President" wears its politics on its sleeve, with Democrats presented as scrupulously honest, people-loving patriots and Republicans as corrupt, stogie-chomping backroom schemers. Meanwhile, opportunities for genuine political insight and ethics discussions are missed.    Starring Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Michael J. Fox, Martin Sheen and Richard Dreyfuss. Directed by Rob Reiner. Written by Aaron Sorkin. Produced by Rob Reiner. A Columbia release. Romantic comedy. Rated PG-13 for some strong language. Running time: 112 min.
Tags: Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Michael J. Fox, Martin Sheen and Richard Dreyfuss. Directed by Rob Reiner. Written by Aaron Sorkin. Produced by Rob Reiner. A Columbia release. Romantic comedy, environmental, chief, crime, melodramatic
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