Running With Arnold

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AUSTIN -- So you think it's a tad premature for the news media to be obsessing to this extent over the 2008 presidential election? How about a race that's not months but several years -- and a hypothetical amendment to the Constitution -- away from reality?

The filmmakers behind "Running With Arnold" might be dead set against an Arnold Schwarzenegger 2012 campaign, but their financiers should be praying that it happens. Without it, the film has little reason to exist and a commercial potential to match.

Although the docu's title seems calculated to remind us of "Journeys With George," which premiered five years ago at South by Southwest, audiences expecting a fly-on-the-campaign-bus-wall adventure will be sorely disappointed -- as will those hoping for a second dose of that film's entertainment value. "George," engaging to both pro- and anti-Bush viewers, took us someplace we hadn't been, exposing a side of the newly inaugurated president that only reporters and friends had seen. "Arnold," on the other hand, simply summarizes material that has had no shortage of exposure in the past few years.

The summary will be useful if an "Arnie for Prez" campaign ever takes shape. But here's hoping somebody will put one together that's better than this. With the production values of a second-rate TV newsmagazine, director Dan Cox whips through the CliffsNotes of the actor's early biography at breakneck speed, pausing only briefly for choice tidbits like an anecdote about young Schwarzenegger abandoning his military post without leave so he could enter a body-building contest.

Cox isn't simply repurposing news footage (he has a barrage of new talking heads to offer), but the film's narrative tone undercuts any journalistic efforts he has made. The script has all the snarky point of view of a Michael Moore diatribe -- going so far as to sprinkle newsreel footage of fascist and Nazi rallies under worried talk of the governor's plans -- but little of the wit or agitprop potency that makes Moore successful.

Viewers outside California might glean useful background here, as Cox strolls through the actor-cum-politician's sketchy associations -- Herr Waldheim, Kenny Boy, a certain celebrity private eye -- and points out discrepancies between his public disavowals of special-interest fundraising and the not-insubstantial contributions he actually has received. Naturally, "Gropegate" and other sexual scandals get a good airing, as do the conflict-of-interest charges involving Schwarzenegger's involvement with muscle mags.

Non-Californians who live under rocks also might benefit from the film's characterization of the governor's relationship to the Republican party; in fact, one or two interviewees here do an admirably succinct job of explaining how the Schwarzenegger's maverick friendliness to certain liberal causes makes him attractive to GOP strategists looking to expand their pool of convincible undecided voters.

But that's about the extent of the educational value of "Running With Arnold," and despite the screenwriters' best attempts, its entertainment quotient is substantially lower. Happily, America's left-leaning documentarians have at least four years to come up with a more effective argument that this muscleman's ambition should be capped at the governor's mansion.

RUNNING WITH ARNOLD
Endless World Entertainment
Credits:
Director: Dan Cox
Screenwriters: Dan Cox, Jerry Decker
Producers: Dan Cox, Mike Gabrawy, Jennifer Hughes
Executive producers: Gregg Michael Abrams, Jeffrey Orenstein, Eric Gardner
Music: Clifford J. Tasner
Editors: Katina Zinner, Ron Frank, Rick Benavides
Running time -- 72 minutes
No MPAA rating
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