The Contender (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The basic plot: the president nominates a woman to be his V.P. after the death of the veep. He does this primarily to assure his own legacy. Her confirmation hearings concentrate on past sexual indiscretions dredged up by the President's sworn political enemy, who is chairing the committe in charge.


There are lot of things I liked very much about this old-fashioned Hollywood movie

  • the maneuverings and machinations of the players on all sides were really fun to watch, and I think pretty much true-to-life. I don't know how true, but I was convinced.
  • some small touches - the President's fascination with the White House Chef, for example - represented excellent character development
  • the characterizations were interesting, and the actors all brought great relish to their roles
  • it is stylishly presented and directed. In fact, I am having a hard time believing that they produced this film for $9 million. If that is the right figure, they delivered a very lush look for the price, and got it all on the screen.
  • one of the four thousand suprises in the ending completely fooled me until about a minute before it happened, even though it made perfect sense
  • the overall point was that the government should take a stronger stance on gender equality, which I agree with
Those were some very strong points, and they combine to make it a very watchable old-fashioned Hollywood potboiler.


the breasts of an unknown extra are seen in the flashbacks to the fraternity/sorority party that is the focus of the confirmation investigation
On the other side of the coin, these weaknesses:
  • They introduced the prospective vice-president's (hereinafter referred to as the VP) father as a character, then dropped him (this was fleshed out in the deleted scenes).
  • The VP refused to defend herself even though (1) the charges were untrue (2) she had equally embarrassing evidence regarding the opposition (3) she eventually developed absolute proof that the charges were untrue. Why did she do this? Because she felt that the investigators had no right to this line of questioning, and she would not stoop to their level. I submit that anyone so pure of heart could not become a U.S. Senator in the first place.
  • While the characterizations were interesting, they were also one-sided and cartoonish. For example, we are not allowed to see any positive aspects of Gary Oldman's character, nor any negatives of Joan Allen's. The entire face-off is Vader vs Skywalker, not real world.
  • One of the main "surprise" plot points was telegraphed early in the film. The other contender for the VP nomination, who tried to save a drowning woman who drove off a bridge, was being investigated. In the questioning, it was clearly established that he was an expert fisherman and an expert on that river, who never should have been in that fishless area near the bridge to begin with. Obviously, there was some point to that scene, and it had to be that he expected the car to drive off that bridge. Knowing that spoiled many other surprises. For example, when the president called the two candidates together, we were supposed to think that he was going to replace the woman with the other candidate. But if you were paying attention, you knew that wasn't going to happen.
  • The Christian Slater character opposed the VP before he knew of the sex scandals. Therefore he opposed her, in all conscience, for other reasons, and they made a big point about how important it was to vote his conscience. When the sex scandals were cleared away, he still should have opposed her, shouldn't he?
  • The entire sub-plot with the FBI agent investigating the other VP candidate was a clumsy add-on to the film. In fact, not only could they have eliminated that part of the FBI investigation, but they could have eliminated the entire sub-plot with the other candidate, and it still would have been the same movie about the confirmation hearings, albeit paced better.
  • She was not only a woman, but an atheist. Not just any atheist, but an intellectual atheist who viewed religion as "fairy tales". The conflict with the religious right would certainly be a major point in her confirmation process, but they dropped this ball completely. Take it from me, a man who has lived his life in the South, this would be a much bigger deal than either her possession of a vagina, or her participation in teenage sex play. In reality, the opposition would try to use her sex and her alleged promiscuity against her, but those would be sound and fury and spin, and would eventually leave nothing but a lingering bad taste and ongoing fodder for hate radio and comic monologues, like Clinton's sex scandals. But her contempt for religion would generate a mobilization that the screenwriters obviously can't imagine (When you live a sheltered life, talking only to other politically correct liberal intellectuals on one of the two coasts, you lose sight of what the real issues are). Frankly, the script either needed to drop this point or give it the significance it would really have in the process. It did neither. It just threw it out for a second, then abandoned it, as if it were inconsequential for a vice-presidential nominee to designate religion as "fairy tales" on nationwide television.
  • The film ends with stirring speeches and rising music and Lincolnesque wisdom and real cornball platitudes. My hidden Scoopy unity is that movies must not end with Lincolnesque speeches unless they are actually delivered by Lincoln (see "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure")

By the way, I think it is more likely that the first black or female vice-president will be a Republican. All elections are fought to win the undecided vote. If you are fervently left or right, there is nothing they can do about you except try to get you to the polls if you agree with them. There is no ideological strategy they can take to persuade you to change your vote. In order to win a consensus, the Republicans have to move left and the Democrats have to move right, each trying to carve out a share of the "undecideds" in the center. If the GOP nominated a woman or an African-American, they would be moving left, and would leave the democrats virtually powerless to attack the candidate without violating their own principles. If I were a Republican presidential candidate, I would conduct a very extensive search for a Republican Jewish female with the credentials to be my running mate (if she exists!). If I were a Democratic presidential candidate, I'd be more likely to seek someone with crossover appeal to undecideds - certainly not a female atheist!

Of course, this film doesn't deal with an election, but with people nominated to fill a vacancy caused by death, so the voters don't get any official voice in the process.


The film ends with a quadruple twist (1) the other VP candidate faked the car incident (2) the VP actually didn't take part in the sex scandals (3) the VP decides to withdraw her nomination rather than defend herself, even though she is innocent of the charges (4) the Pres refuses to accept her withdrawal

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 185:1

  • A dozen short deleted scenes

  • full-length director's commentary

  • "making of a political thriller' documentary

I watched the movie all the way through, and enjoyed it all except the ending - the quadruple twist and the rising-music-stirring-speeches about government of all the people.

I disliked the finale for two reasons:

1. The audience sees it all coming too soon.

2. Even though I expected it, I still didn't like it. I hoped they would go for something really daring which they didn't. (Like if the VP had really done all the sex stuff, and just told the senate committee outright that they were sexist assholes who would never have considered those items suitable investigation topics if she were a man. That would have been bold filmmaking)

So the film is not as intelligent as it would like you to believe, and nowhere near as daring, but a good watch nonetheless.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three and a half stars. Ebert 4/4, Berardinelli 3/4, Maltin 3/4, Apollo 84.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 75% positive overall, 70% from the top critics.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.9, Apollo users a very impressive 80/100. These scores are consistent with the critical consensus.
  • With their dollars ... it did a mediocre $17 million in 1500 theaters domestically. If the production budget of $9 million is accurate, however, they seem to have created a minor winner.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B-.

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