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Knife Fight: Film Review

Knife Fight

The Bottom Line

This toothless political satire lacks the courage of its convictions.

Director

Bill Guttentag

Screenwriters

Bill Guttentag, Chris Lehane

Cast

Rob Lowe, Julie Bowen, Saffron Burrows, Eric McCormack, Richard Schiff, Carrie-Anne Moss

Rob Lowe and Richard Schiff once again play political operatives in this cinematic portrait of cutthroat contemporary politics.

The presence of Rob Lowe and Richard Schiff in leading roles in Knife Fight merely brings a sad nostalgia for their glory days in the late, lamented West Wing television series. This satire written and directed by Bill Guttentag -- based on a story by co-screenwriter and former Bill Clinton advisor Chris Lehane -- aims to be a cutting-edge portrait of cutthroat political machinations. But it’s a mostly toothless affair that, like so many of our current political figures, proves alienating.

Lowe plays the central role of Paul Turner, a campaign advisor and political fixer who has his hands full with his two current clients. One is a slick Kentucky governor (Eric McCormack) accused of having an affair with a young intern, while the other is a war veteran California senator (David Harbour) whose massage session with a former hooker turned masseuse apparently had a very happy ending.

Even while Paul attempts to put out these fires for politicians who he believes will best serve their constituents despite their own moral failings, he becomes involved with another potential candidate who seems too good to be true: a crusading female doctor (Carrie-Anne Moss) running a free health clinic who single-handedly disarms a disturbed, knife-wielding homeless man.

Aiding Paul in his savvy maneuvers is his young, idealistic assistant (Jamie Chung) who plans to abandon the sleazy world of politics to go to medical school; a sleazy operative (Schiff) who eagerly handles the dirty end of the business; and a shrewd TV reporter named -- wait for it -- “Peaches” (Julie Bowen) who apparently doesn’t mind sacrificing her credibility by going to bed with him.

Featuring the sort of colorfully cynical dialogue that passes for edgy, the film fails to rise above melodrama in its depiction of its sordid situations, and a ninth-inning plot development involving a major character is particularly implausible. More problematically, its portrayal of Paul as both deeply principled and willing to do whatever it takes for his clients to win seems like wanting to have it both ways. This would-be morality play doesn’t have the courage to play by its own rules.

 

(IFC Films)

Production: Divisadero Pictures, Knight.

Cast: Rob Lowe, Julie Bowen, Saffron Burrows, Jamie Chung, David Harbour, Eric McCormack, Jennifer Morrison, Carrie-Anne Moss, Richard Schiff.

Director: Bill Guttentag.

Screenwriters: Bill Guttentag, Chris Lehane.

Producers: Guerrino De Luca, Catherine Davila, Daniel Davila.

Executive producer: William Green.

Director of photography: Stephen Kazmierski.

Editor: Robert Dalva.

Production designer: Michael Goldman.

Costume designer: Arielle Antoine.

Composer: Sister Bliss.

Not rated, 99 min.