I requested, received and read Wes Jones‘ College Republicans yesterday, and the thumbs-up consensus is absolutely correct. This is a very smartly written, character-rich, darkly humorous tale of an actual 1973 road trip taken by infamous Bush strategist and Fox News scumbag Karl Rove, then 23, and the late Republican attack dog Lee Atwater, then 22, as they campaigned and dirty-tricked their way across the south in order to get Rove elected chairman of the College Republican National Committee.
(l. to. r.) young Karl Rove, Shia LaBeouf, the late Lee Atwater, Paul Dano.
But what this is, boiled down, is another Due Date mixed with politics and, in a manner of speaking, horror. Because it’s an origin story about the wily and colorful beginnings of two scoundrels who made their bones as the architects of rightwing attack-and-subvert politics — guys who not only put two Bushes into the White House but injected a vicious and reprehensible strain into American politics that not only thrives today but has in fact metastasized.
And yet it’s funny and entertaining, and the Atwater character is a likable good-old-boy, part snake and part horndog, and Rove is a brilliant but snarly schemer who believes in Machiavelli and getting revenge. And it’s got rowdy episodes and wild shenanigans (sexual seduction, colorful language, sudden fisticuffs, rummaging through garbage cans, being chased by dogs and cops and hopping over fences) and a scrappy and suspenseful third-act climax that works in the same way that hundreds of other films have worked — i.e., everything comes to a head and the characters fulfill their fate.
Do I have to say it? Material of this sort is right up the alley of director Todd Phillips (Due Date, The Hangover, Road Trip), and yet the largely fact-based, dark-political-metaphor aspect would expand Phillips’ resume. Anonymous Content, the project’s producers, doesn’t need to be told this. It’s a no-brainer.
But in his 12.17 review piece, L.A. Times guy Steven Zeitchick has apparently heard the wrong information about who might potentially play Rove and Atwater. He reports that Anonymous wants Shia LaBeouf to portray Atwater and Paul Dano to inhabit Rove. And that can’t be. If anything, it’s gotta be LaBeouf as Rove and Dano as Atwater. Zeitchik’s casting doesn’t allow for the slightest physical resemblance between the actors and the real guys, but you could easily imagine the opposite.
And if they can’t get LaBeouf, fine. Because Emile Hirsch would have a total field day as Rove. He’s not as commercial as LaBeouf, agreed, but he’d knock it out of the park. And it’s really too bad Seth Rogen looks so much older than he is (born in 1982, doesn’t appear a day under 38) because he’d also be awesome as the future Bushian power-broker. But there’s no way audiences could buy him as a 23 year-old.
Zeitchik goes off on a weird tangent when he calls College Republicans “a tricky commercial prospect…the stuff of great drama but not necessarily great box office [because] it’s far from a sure thing that the large number of Americans who consider themselves Republicans would embrace a Hollywood take on Karl Rove.”
Zeitchik is serious? Firstly, College Republicans is a story about a couple of smart (if slightly satanic) young guys on the make who take down their enemies and attain power, and if that’s not an American success story then I don’t know what is. Secondly, take out the comic schtick and some of the antics and the story is essentially truthful. (Most of it is recounted in James Moore and Wayne Slater‘s “Rove Exposed: How Bush’s Brain Fooled America.”) And thirdly, the only Republicans who know or care about Rove these days are over 55 and live in the hinterlands. Rove is a back-room guy who’s not at all liked, I’ve read, by Sarah Palin or the Tea Party-ers, and while he’s a Fox News commentator he clearly lacks the bully-boy charisma and popularity of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh. And — hello? — Rove is generally regarded as a demonic figure who operated the marionette strings of George Bush, swift-boated John Kerry, was involved in outing Valerie Plame, mis-advised Bush on Hurricane Katrina, etc. If you can’t portray or satirize a guy like Rove in a darkly humorous way, who can you stick it to?