Speaking of "Limited Reprisals."
Has there ever been any movie that has aged as badly--and as quickly--as Rob Reiner's The American President? Not that it was good when it came out: a gooey agitprop morality play in romantic comedy drag, it lionized the Clinton Presidency and did everything but force Richard Dreyfus' thinly disguised Bob Dole character to walk around with horns and a pitchfork. The best thing about it was that it inspired a hilarious SNL review by Darrell Hammond's Bill Clinton:
Norm MacDonald: "An American President", Rob Reiner's new film starring Michael Douglas and Annette Bening, opened in theaters last week. Here with his review is "Update" movie critic and 42nd President of these United States, Bill Clinton.
President Bill Clinton: Thank you, Norm...thank you, all. Rob Reiner's latest film tells the story of a young, idealistic president, who has not only a hostile Congress and a nasty Republican contender to deal with, but also has to raise a 12-year-old daughter on his own, because, you see, his wife is dead. I love this movie!
Norm MacDonald: You really liked it that much, Mr. President?
President Bill Clinton: Norm, from the moment we learn the premise about the young president with the dead wife, the viewer just falls hook, line and sinker. I mean, Rob Reiner has tapped into what must be every young American's fantasy: to grow up, to become President, to have your wife die, and be left with the trappings of the office free and unattached. [ laughs ]
Norm MacDonald: Was there anything you didn't like about the movie, Mr. President?
President Bill Clinton: Well, I thought some of the performances were unconvincing, particularly Martin Sheen as the President's Chief-of-Staff. He's done better work.
Norm MacDonald: Uh-huh. And what did you like best about the movie?
President Bill Clinton: The dead wife.
Believe it or not, the movie has managed to become much worse. Why? Leaving aside the movie's bias, the thing that kills it today is that it had a hidden expiration date: September 11, 2001.
I had the displeasure of stumbling across it a week ago when it was on one of the Turner channels. The scene that was showing was the first date of President Michael Douglas (like the character's name matters) and Lobbyist Bening, thoughtlessly interrupted by a Libyan-sponsored terrorist bombing that killed American soldiers. In short, an act of war. The "response" was fully Clintonian, a bombing of the Libyan intelligence headquarters at night. After hours, because that would kill the least number of people, you see. Even the terror masters have to get some regular shut-eye.
This is done even though the only people being killed there are the cleaning staff. We'll show you: you declare war on us and we'll whack your janitors. Check and mate! Of course, President Mike agonizes over it, calling it the "least noble thing he ever did," or some similar horse guano. The statement is true, of course--but for reasons the writer (Aaron Sorkin, creator of "The West Wing") did not intend. Wow, what impressive leadership. I almost laughed out loud at that point. More hilarious is that the movie then depicts President Mike moving on to the "important" stuff. You know: gun control, environmental policy and wowing the pants off Annette Bening. A perfect summary of Bill's eight years in power.
The Libya scene sums up the utter wrongheadedness of Clinton's response to terror, starting with "reprisals" that ensure the safety of the very people who killed yours. It further serves as a window on the minds of the "peace at any price" left, who gobbled this stuff up at the box office.
In short, it's become a cringe-inducingly awful scene in a film that was not particularly good in the first place. I would be surprised if it's being shown ten years from now. If it is, I'll still be hurling the same derisive laughter at it.