'Bob Roberts' skewers the political process from the inside out

April 30, 1993|By Scott Hettrick | Scott Hettrick,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

BOB ROBERTS

(LIVE, rated R, 1992)

"Bob Roberts" may have been the most accomplished and certainly the most clever and refreshing film of 1992. It's even more impressive when one considers that it was written and directed by an actor, first-time director Tim Robbins. He also wrote the bitingly satirical conservative ballads with his brother, David Robbins. Oh yes, and did we mention that Mr. Robbins is also the star of the film?

Mr. Robbins plays Roberts, a walking contradiction who is right at home in the world of politics. He drives around the country in a mobile home designed to be in constant contact with the stock market. Yet his whistle-stops are folk-music concerts in which he inverts familiar Bob Dylan standards into conservative anthems, such as "Times Are Changin' Back" (even Dylan music videos are spoofed). It seems the young self-made millionaire is embarking on a campaign of media manipulation in a bid to unseat an incumbent liberal senator from Pennsylvania named Brickley Paiste (Gore Vidal).

We follow the campaign through the camera eye of a British documentary filmmaker who is shadowing the unique players of the Roberts camp. You'll find the concept and the cinema verite style reminiscent of the equally fine Robert Altman/Garry Trudeau television series for HBO, "Tanner '88." Interestingly, just before making this film, Mr. Robbins starred in Mr. Altman's most recent project, "The Player."

"It was the most perfect experience to have right before I directed my first film," Mr. Robbins said recently. Mr. Robbins doesn't limit his attack in "Roberts" to politicians but to the whole political process, as well as the media, particularly TV news personalities. He even jabs at entertainment network executives a scene he said was based on an actual incident at "Saturday Night Live," where a politically sensitive sketch had to be toned down because of corporate pressure.

"There's a problem with the cross-hybridization of entertainment and news," Mr. Robbins warns. "It started a few years back when they started rating the news. They crossed the line."

SCHOOL TIES

(Paramount, rated PG-13, 1992)

It would be naive to believe that the kind of prejudice exhibited in "School Ties" does not exist in such an overt and extreme manner in our society today.

But one has to wonder why the producers set the film about anti-Semitism in the 1950s. If it was to be relevant for today's audiences, why not make it contemporary? And if it wasn't intended to be topical, what is the purpose of bringing out this film now?

Those questions aside, "School Ties" has dramatic problems as well, but they are not ruinous. The primary problem is with the main character, played by Brendan Fraser. Mr. Fraser is a handsome young man, but he looks too big and too old for the part of a high school teen-ager. His character seems mature and self-controlled beyond his years. Perhaps that comes from spending his entire life defending his Jewish heritage against bigots in his working-class community.

Just when he has finally won some respect among his peers and is in his final year of high school, he gets transferred to an elite New England prep school on a football scholarship and has to start the entire process over again. At first he tries to keep his religion a secret because he is already being ostracized for being the new kid and for his lack of social standing.

Anyway, he can tell his classmates are very prejudiced as well as judgmental and he just wants to fit in. It's all pretty trite material and you can see every incident and its outcome miles before it arrives. (Of course, there's a girlfriend who dumps him when she learns he's Jewish.)

But it's a theme that's always worth reinforcing, and it may play well with preteens if parents take the time to discuss the message with them.

*

Vid tip: You'll have to wait until early October to bring "Aladdin" video home, but you can see the best parts this week on the 11th volume of "Sing-Along Songs," which Disney has rushed to video. Entitled "Friend Like Me," the 30-minute program priced at $12.99 features the animated sequences that coincide with the Academy Award winning songs, "A Whole New World."

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