Picks and Pans Review: Perfect
The cast is rousing good company, there's zip in the pace, zing in the dialogue, and John Travolta-playing a Rolling Stone reporter—delivers his best performance in years. But Perfect, based in part on Aaron Latham's 1983 Rolling Stone cover story on the fitness craze, is not nearly as consistently caustic as it should be. Latham had an angle on health spas: He thought the clubs had become the singles bars of the '80s. The movie, written by Latham and director James (Urban Cowboy) Bridges, attempts to raise larger issues, including the ways reporter and subject are compromised when objectivity is lost. This happens when Travolta falls for Jamie Lee Curtis, playing an aerobics instructor with a bad past history with the press, and tries to leave her out of his story. Curtis has the kind of body cameras understandably worship and her fierce intelligence shakes out every grain of truth she can find in the script. Some of Perfect, the part about how Travolta charms and cheats his way into the spa story, is sassy, scathing fun. The part that attempts to turn Travolta into a torchbearer for journalistic ethics is cannily camouflaged hot air. This is done through Travolta's parallel assignment, an interview with a businessman involved in cocaine smuggling, "You do serious stuff too?" says Curtis, clearly awed. When Travolta won't surrender his tapes to a federal court, we're supposed to be awed too. This sanctimonious subplot is artificial enough to get an audience giggling. But when Perfect drops its pretensions, it's maliciously on-target. Jann Wenner, the real-life editor of Rolling Stone and now Us magazine, offers a devastating send-up of himself. He plays a pudgy, penny-pinching, perpetually hung over celebrity chaser ("Mikey Douglas is in town"). While Wenner is a nonactor, his vital presence is one of Perfect's pluses. So are Marilu Henner and Laraine Newman. Newman, expertly walking the line between hilarity and heartbreak, is a spa regular known as "the most used piece of equipment in the gym." Bridges and Latham show us the cruelty of that remark by transforming what Wenner calls "California airheads" into recognizable human beings. Travolta sees the humanity too, but Wenner doesn't publish Travolta's feelings, only the facts. In the film's most powerful scene, Curtis, Henner and Newman silently gather around the just-published story, their faces a mirror of how words can wound. Perfect is far from perfect, but in scenes like this one it comes very close. (R)
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