Published Jan 25, 2013If a very junior intern writer for The West Wing were to write a script after watching In the Loop and a few choice '80s movies, it might look and feel a great deal like Bill Guttentag's remarkably bland political comedy, Knife Fight.
This overly idealistic morality play covers the standard tropes and themes of Ides of March, and pretty much any politically themed HBO original film, reiterating the notion that the capabilities and intentions of our world leaders are far less important than what they do with their genitals.
In pseudo-documentary style, this idealistic satire follows strategist Paul Turner (Rob Lowe) while he manoeuvres and manipulates situations to protect the public images of his various clients. Kentucky philanderer Larry (Eric McCormack) gets in trouble with his constituency when it's exposed that he bagged a 22-year-old intern. California Senator Stephen (David Harbour) finds himself in a similarly sticky situation (a stained shirt is involved) when a routine massage takes a rather turn south.
As Paul devises various media tactics and smear campaigns to distract people, exploiting the media presence of Peaches (Julie Bowen), a beauty pageant winner turned journalist, he develops a minor moral quandary. Constantly using questionable strategies to help his clients avoid public criticism, he throws a variety of (mostly) innocent bystanders under the bus, subverting the overall intention of political leaders to act as vessels for the good of the people.
Since the comedy is unfunny and the narrative unoriginal, the strength of Knife Fight comes from its themes and performances. And while the acting is uniformly quite strong — a cameo from House's Jennifer Morrison stands out, in particular — the observation that the general public are a bunch of undiscerning, morally preoccupied Muppets isn't particularly revolutionary.
It is an accurate observation, and it is important to note that judging people for superficial faults is absurd when you think of the bigger picture, but the manner in which Knife Fight presents a solution is glib and idealistic at best.
The heart-warming third act virtually undoes any of the progress the earlier portion of the film made by thwarting the cycle of corruption with exceedingly broad and romanticized concepts of individual consciousness. Guttentag asserts that honesty and sincerity will be rewarded by a public that will find such things refreshing.
And while this is a nice thought, it's unfortunately a little too pat and convenient for a film that prides itself on having an edgy, insider take on politics. (Pacific Northwest Pictures)