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Executive Inaction

Absolute Power
Graham Kuhn

Dance of Deceit: The president (Gene Hackman) smiles his way through a tense tango with his chief of staff (Judy Davis) in Clint Eastwood's hoary new thriller.

Clint Eastwood goes through the paces in the formulaic thriller 'Absolute Power'

By Richard von Busack

NO DOG EVER RAIDED A GARBAGE CAN with as much gusto as Gene Hackman displays rooting through the ugly side of the human soul. In Absolute Power, Hackman's president of the United States has a twirl at a formal party with his chief of staff, Gloria Russell (Judy Davis). Tight smiles all around; the two have to tango just so they have a quick word to themselves. Gloria, dimpling like Peggy Noonan in the hallowed presence of Ronald Reagan, is wearing a diamond necklace that she thinks President Richmond gave her as a reward for cleaning up a murder in which he had been involved. But Richmond is horrified at the sight of the necklace, because the victim of the murder was wearing it on the night in question, and he most certainly did not send Gloria the damned thing.

The two conspirators get rougher on each other as the dance goes on. Davis is at her Joan Crawfordish best waspishly reminding her president that the other night's misadventure was, how shall we say it, not the first time she's had to take care of one of his little accidents. Hackman is as engorged with rage as a tuxedo permits, and neither of them misses a step during the hissed argument.

Unfortunately, Absolute Power isn't about this smiling, slimy politico and his Lady Macbeth of an assistant. They're on screen for perhaps 20 minutes. Alas, Absolute Power is actually a Clint Eastwood picture. Who does Clint play this time? As the press kit says, he's "a technician, a craftsman, a solitary perfectionist. Those who know his work would say that he is, in fact, an artist." The worshipful tone does sound like Richard Schickel in his fawning new biography of Mr. Dina Ruiz, but the excerpt describes Eastwood's character, Luther Whitney, last of the gentleman jewel thieves. He has Batman-like powers of disappearance and disguise, and a code of honor that makes him declare a vendetta on the president, whose crime he witnessed. All this while spending some free time getting to know his estranged daughter (Laura Linney, late of Congo).

Cobbled together from ancient movie tropes, this worn old shoe of a film treads along dutifully until it stubs its toe on an astonishingly improbable ending. It's hard not to consider the whole thing Eastwood's revenge on the Clintons--the two powers that be, shown here as a hopeless philanderer and a mean bitch. But it's probably better for the Clintons to have Eastwood as an enemy then as a friend, considering how the old guard is honored.

E.G. Marshall, 87, plays Walter Sullivan, some sort of self-made zillionaire whose wife was killed because of the too-frisky president. Sullivan must explain to a cop (Ed Harris) who always admired the old man why he has a two-way mirror in his bedroom: The old man couldn't sexually satisfy his 25-year-old trophy wife; she thought he'd get a charge out of watching her with other men, but he hated the whole sordid thing. Now afraid he'll be remembered for the sex scandal and not his good works, he says pathetically, "I've donated a billion dollars to charity." A few million should have been sufficient to expiate the sin of watching your wife bonk other men. Let's be generous: Just buy some return-address stickers from Greenpeace. Ed Harris hangs his Protestant head, moved by the noblesse of the great. Such preposterousness doesn't even deserve the dignity of a horselaugh.

Absolute Power (R; 121 min.), directed by Clint Eastwood, written by William Goldman, photographed by Jack N. Green and starring Eastwood, Gene Hackman and Ed Harris.

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From the February 13-19, 1997 issue of Metro

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