Picks and Pans Review: Power

updated 02/17/1986 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/17/1986 01:00AM

Richard Gere is livelier than usual in this dumb but entertaining gloss on the wicked ways media wizards package political candidates. Don't look for an incisive probe into the methods of real-life campaign handlers such as David Garth and Pat Caddell. Gere's Pete St. John is a fantasy figure, gifted with an unlined face, great money, terrific suits (no actor fills a Dunhill better), a private jet and a high-tech office. His assistant, played by Kate (Indiana Jones) Capshaw, obligingly wiggles out of her tight skirt whenever the boss calls for some quick dictation in the shower. At least director Sidney Lumet pumps up the picture with all the pizzazz, if not the passion, he brought to the similarly themed Network. Gere, in a role originally set for Burt Reynolds (until he dropped out), has finally found the perfect outlet for the smug self-involvement that makes most of his other performances insufferable. His work here has the tone of a buzzsaw's nasty burr. So does David Himmelstein's dialogue. Himmelstein, once a press aide to former Massachusetts Sen. Edward Brooke, has a keen ear for the cadence of hustle. Power is at its best on the run, watching Gere trying to win a Senate seat for a tongue-tied millionaire (Fritz Weaver), keep in office a freshly divorced woman governor (smartly done by Michael Learned) and cope with a ruthless lobbyist (Denzel Washington). Whenever Lumet slows down so that Gere can moon over his ex-wife (Julie Christie is wasted in the role) or bemoan his lost ideals with old boss Gene Hackman, Power poops out. Worse is all the blather about selling images instead of issues, a fault the movie all too clearly shares with its alleged targets. By the end, when Gere finds redemption by giving young pol Matt Salinger (J.D.'s son, in a striking debut) the old "to thine own self be true" speech, the only recourse is to stuff popcorn in your ears. (R)

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