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Commentary | COLUMN LEFT / ROBERT SCHEER

Washington, Get Me Rewrite

The Starr report doesn't live up to the advance billing; we'll stick with our leading man.

September 15, 1998|ROBERT SCHEER | Robert Scheer is a Times contributing editor. E-mail: rscheer@robert scheer.com

I want my money back. The sex was boring and the story line went nowhere.

For $45 million, you'd think Kenneth Starr could have come up with a script that had some better plot points. What happened to the Whitewater rip-off, the Vince Foster murder/suicide, Travelgate, Filegate, Kathleen Willey and the missing interns?

Hey, I'm no lawyer, but if this is a movie about impeachment, we gotta have some impeachable offenses. You know, like the Constitution says, treason, bribery and high crimes and misdemeanors. Nobody's getting impeached over oral sex.

What we have here is "Fatal Attraction II" without the really hot parts. I realize Ken Starr grew up with a preacher-father who once busted a woman in a sermon for wearing shorts while milking a cow in her own yard, but you're not going to shock anyone these days with a little safe-sex foreplay--cigar or no cigar.

Was there a writer on this? The whole thing reads like the raw notes from some vice squad cop who's been on stakeout too long. It happens all the time, an occupational hazard; they become like a voyeur-pervert obsessed by the smallest details of the sex lives of the people being observed. Everything's noted, everything's important. In the end, everything is a turn-on to the cop freezing out there in the cold looking in, but for your normal people in the audience, it doesn't work.

True, we're talking voyeurism on the very highest level here. I mean Starr's got the president of the United States under constant surveillance, capturing every detail, like when Monica first flashes the thong underwear to get the president's attention, and that bit about taking a phone call from a congressman while the perp is still in the act, but how much of that does an audience really want to see? Most people have experienced wilder things in their own marriages--hey, this is the age of the Victoria's Secret catalogue, kinky Internet sites and the Fox network.

So what have you really got other than a middle-aged man making a fool of himself over some Beverly Hills mall brat, whose inspiration is a mother who supposedly hung out with rich old men at the Polo Lounge? The daughter seems to have been geared up all her post-pubescent life to function as some sort of sexual wind-up toy. The audience will never buy that she's the innocent victim--she's more like Drew Barrymore in the film "Poison Ivy"--or that he's the great seducer. You're a third of the way into the story before our lover boy even figures out how oral sex works.

How old did you say this guy is? And he still thinks the trick to staying pure is not going all the way? Look, if his wife buys it, who are we to criticize? A lot of people put up with more to keep their marriages going, and we don't want to alienate the family values crowd. The audience is going to dump on the home-wrecker-femme-fatale wannabe and sympathize like crazy with the wife. She's the one trying to keep the family together and worrying about her kid. The Beverly Hills sharkette ought to be apologizing for deliberately attempting to break up a family instead of negotiating multimillion dollar book contracts.

The love and sex angle just doesn't work here. What we need is to bring in a script doctor and turn this into an action flick. The president has to be seen heroically rising from the ashes of his personal failures to save the country from external danger. Things are falling apart in the world, our own country is starting to hurt and everyone knows this guy is good at taking care of the boring but important stuff. Fact is, he gets more turned on by position papers than sex.

The president is going to survive because without him, we have no hero and hence no story. What is the alternative? Take that character actor we now have cast as vice president and suddenly make him the lead? It'll put the audience to sleep. And don't talk about the speaker of the House taking over; they'll be clogging the aisles just to get away from the whine of his voice.

Nope, we stick with our star for all the reasons that got him here: He looks good, sounds great and the women love him no matter how many times he messes up. And he's super smart on policy. The only one who's even smarter and more competent is his wife, but I don't think the country's ready just yet for her to suddenly be put out there in the leading role. Although . . . .

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