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W. for Wimpy 

Rating: **

W.
** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Oliver Stone
STARS Josh Brolin, Richard Dreyfuss

GARDEN STATE: Flanked by Karl Rove (Toby Jones), George W. Bush (Josh Brolin) realizes his presidency is going to the dogs in W. (Photo: Lionsgate)
  • GARDEN STATE: Flanked by Karl Rove (Toby Jones), George W. Bush (Josh Brolin) realizes his presidency is going to the dogs in W. (Photo: Lionsgate)

Oliver Stone rushed rushed rushed to insure that W., his look at the president currently occupying the White House, would be in theaters before Election Day. Obviously, this begs the question: Why? Citizens inclined to vote for John McCain (or Barack Obama) aren't likely to rethink their ballots after sitting through this namby-pamby biopic of one of the most divisive figures in American history. If anything, they'd be more likely to just skip the election altogether, lest Stone serve up another dry biopic four or eight years hence.

Love him or hate him, there's no denying that George W. Bush is a remarkably controversial figure, so how is it possible that Stone has managed to make a movie that's about as incendiary as Kung Fu Panda? Perhaps we can chalk it up to Stone electing to emulate that timid and self-censoring collective: the so-called Liberal Media. ("Gosh, we better go easy on these rabid right-wingers regardless of what harm they're causing, lest someone calls us names and hurts our feelings.") The leftist Stone has been down this road before, when he tried to inject sympathy and dignity into the tale of Tricky Dick in his 1995 effort, Nixon. Yet that feature looks as hard-hitting as All the President's Men when compared to W., which suggests that Dubya's only real character flaw is that he isn't always the sharpest tack in the box. Are we talking about the same president?

So much damning evidence has been stacked against Bush -- even the polls show how the easily duped who voted him into office (twice!) have finally turned off American Idol long enough to see what's really going on -- that the movie's narrow focus on precious few incidents in his life hardly makes the production of this picture seem worth the effort. The film flashes back and forth between the years -- chronologically, the earliest scene finds young George impressing his fraternity brothers at the mandatory hazing -- but it never manages to find time for any mention of, for starters, his ineptitude in the face of Katrina or his paralyzed state during those first fateful moments of 9/11. Its primary focus from 2000 to now is how sweet, trusting George was largely duped into attacking Iraq since his advisors convinced him that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs; there's a later scene in which he's shocked -- shocked, I tell you! -- to learn that the WMDs never existed, and certain audience members will instantly deem this picture as much of a fantasy as The Wizard of Oz or Star Wars.

Stone further decides that every move Dubya makes in his life is to seek approval from a perpetually disappointed father (played by James Cromwell). Daddy issues certainly have come into play in Bush's life, but here they're the be-all and end-all of his entire existence, thereby reducing this man to a Pop Psychology 101 test subject. The two women in his life -- wife Laura (Elizabeth Banks) and mom Barbara (Ellen Burstyn) -- do little more than offer, respectively, support and criticism.

As W., Josh Brolin's performance can't be faulted: He's playing the part as conceived by screenwriter Stanley Weiser, and he provides the proper mix of swagger and insecurity. In fact, practically all of the actors are solid, even if they don't really represent the real-life figures they're playing. Jeffrey Wright probably comes closest: His Colin Powell is a conscientious man who's ultimately too weak-willed to stand up against the warmongers surrounding him. Thandie Newton is (unintentionally?) amusing as Condoleezza Rice -- she elicited audience giggles whenever she spoke in that clipped accent -- though it's impossible to get a bead on this shadowy figure. Scott Glenn is suitably oily as Donald Rumsfeld, and this character comes off as the only truly odious one in the film. Yes, you read that right. Richard Dreyfuss' Dick Cheney seems more like a well-meaning if occasionally cantankerous uncle, while Toby Jones' Karl Rove comes across as a smart, likable guy who's no worse than any other political player (try telling that to Max Cleland).

WTF? (Or should that be W.TF?) Playing loose with history is one thing, but when you make Cheney and Rove, two of the most vile politicians ever to set foot in DC, appear almost as cuddly as newborn kittens, then something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.

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