Picks and Pans Review: The American President
The clever premise of this romantic comedy—a widowed President decides to start dating just before going up for reelection—dissipates under Rob Reiner's coy, naive direction.
Douglas is the first-term Democratic President who is smitten with Bening when she comes to lobby about a pending pro-environment bill. Writer Aaron Sorkin gets a lot of things right, especially the intense, support-cum-badgering relationships among Douglas and his closest advisers—chief of staff Sheen, domestic policy adviser Fox and personal secretary (Samantha Mathis).
But Sorkin makes both Douglas and Bening painfully ingenuous for two modern political hotshots; they're inordinately shocked when their public romance turns into a political media sensation. Richard Dreyfuss is a snarly Republican senator who is Douglas's likely opponent in the next election and waxes pompous about Douglas's lack of "family values."
Reiner and Sorkin have environmental and gun-control axes to grind, so much of the otherwise frivolous script is given over to speeches about global warming and assault weapons. Bening and Douglas do, however, generate chemistry, albeit chastely, and Douglas strikes up a warm relationship with Shawna Waldron, who smoothly plays his 12-year-old daughter.
The supersweet ending should satisfy romantics, surprise nobody and fit snugly into Reiner's unfortunate post-Spinal Tap tendency to favor fantasy over satire. (PG-13)