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Review by Rich Cline |
dir Frank Coraci
scr Will Reichel
prd Frank Coraci, Aimee Keen, Susan Leber
with Steve Coogan, Taylor Russell, Neve Campbell, Judith Light, Skylar Astin, Griffin Newman, Pico Alexander, Tina Benko, Lawrence Gilliard, John Rothman, Geoffrey Cantor, Jin Ha
release US 23.Aug.19,
Bright and snappy, this comedy operates on a variety of levels, with some pointed observations about the nature of the media and politics woven into the usual story about a powerful man who needs to learn to be less selfish. No, there isn't an unpredictable moment in this film, but director Frank Coraci is experienced at keeping the pace brisk while making unlikeable characters engaging.
Outspoken right-wing broadcaster Lionel (Coogan) stirs up radio listeners with his show Fired Up, with the main target of his rage being liberal Senator Montefiore-Salters (Light). But his sanctimonious ex-sidekick Gareth (Astin) is killing him in the ratings with his rival religious-based show. Then Lionel's bright, feisty 16-year-old niece Tess (Russell) turns up needing a place to stay while her mother (Benko) goes through rehab again. Reluctantly letting her move in, he puts her to work on her show, and she quickly bonds with his girlfriend/publicist Val (Campbell).
On his programme, Lionel appeals to the lowest interests of his listeners. And he's even worse in his private life, cheating on Val and dismissive of Tess. "Nobody helped me," he whines. "Exactly," Val replies. Lionel won't admit it, but he's hiding insecurity behind cheap verbal shots. Meanwhile, Tess eloquently challenges his opinion that the public doesn't want nuance or even straight talk. They want to feel a sense of power, even if it's fake. Lionel may be a cynic, but he knows how the media works.
Coogan's performance majors on withering looks and cruel put-downs in a strained American accent. He's too easily rattled by his nemeses, but Val calms him down and Tess makes him think. Coogan properly shines as Lionel starts expressing his real beliefs, and his finely ordered image begins to crumble. Both Russell and Campbell are terrific as intelligent women with their own ideas and dreams. Perhaps they put up with this idiot because they see something under the bluster. Their individual journeys are even more vital than Lionel's.
The film has a scruffy, offbeat charm that's never challenging, side-stepping the politics for prickly comedy on two fronts: romance with Val and family connections with Tess. There are some pungent moments of political grandstanding along the way, but they're choppily edited to sound more scandalous than they are. The final-act plot beats take the exact path they have to, complete with the requisite swell of sentiment. At least it almost avoids sappiness as it finds some hard, honest things to say.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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