Bob Roberts | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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A rather brilliant if overloaded pseudodocumentary satire in the mode of Real Life and This Is Spinal Tap, Tim Robbins's first feature as writer-director is an angry catalog of recent media abuses in the realm of politics. (Properly speaking, there are no real characters here, only types and images, which is part of the point.) Robbins plays a folksinging Pennsylvania conservative running for the U.S. Senate against fuddy-duddy liberal incumbent Brickley Paiste (Gore Vidal) shortly before the Persian Gulf war. While it's certainly true, as most reviewers have been claiming, that this movie does a devastating job on Reagan and Bush's values and corruption, it offers an equally sharp critique of various liberal politicians. (Robbins may believe everything Paiste says, but even the lampoonish name shows that we're not supposed to take him entirely straight, and Vidal's bow ties and improvised oratory add immeasurably to the parody.) The functioning of media itself is Robbins's true subject, and it's exciting to see him appropriating some of the ideas of his mentor Robert Altman and giving them more bite than Altman ever did (not only in Tanner '88 and The Player, but also in Nashville). Robbins is attempting too much here, but the 70 percent or so that he brings off borders at times on the breathtaking. With Giancarlo Esposito, Alan Rickman, Ray Wise, Brian Murray, and some deadly cameos by John Cusack (in a brutal takeoff on Saturday Night Live), Peter Gallagher, Bob Balaban, Susan Sarandon, Fred Ward, and James Spader. (Water Tower)

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