Momentum: Acting Like the President

Source: Maverick Media

Read: Momentum: A Presidential Blockbuster

A highly ambitious Congresswoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), a tough-as-nails ex-warrior (Laurence Fishburne), and a charismatic young turk (Ben Affleck) are fighting for the presidential nomination. Sound vaguely familiar? It’s Momentum II, a better-than-the-real-thing political thriller that answers the question: Just how far will candidates go to get elected?

Here’s the story so far: Fishburne (as General Fred “the fox” Oxhart) has rescued POWs being held in Iran but is falsely smeared as a war profiteer. Meanwhile, Michelle (Christine Norris Nichols) receives a sympathy bump after her plane almost goes down, while Ben (tycoon Nathan B. Crane) mobilizes the youth vote with rousing stump speeches about change. But neither of the candidates – CNN, Fox and NBC, for short – has enough delegates to secure the nomination, and Michelle’s dad, Gene Hackman (Ted Nichols), has a secret plan to win the White House.

Cut to the convention, where the tension is reaching a fever pitch. Deeply offended by the attacks on his integrity Fishburne has doubts about whether to stay in the race. But he can’t decide whether to throw his support to Pfeiffer, whose bitter style bugs him, or Affleck, whom he blames for the smear and considers a undisciplined novice. At a private meeting with the boy wonder Larry’s concerns deepen when Ben, armed with Internet tracking evidence, accuses Michelle’s camp of circulating the rumors. If the convention deadlocks Ben threatens to go public with the truth, even if it destroys the party’s chances of victory.

The delegates are about to vote when the networks report that Michelle’s plane may actually have been sabotaged. Pandemonium engulfs the convention hall. Hackman immediately goes on TV, blaming the Iranians and suggesting that it may have been retaliation for Fishburne’s commando mission. He’s setting the stage for something even bigger: Larry’s assassination on live TV. (Hey, it’s a sequel.) But Ben’s cyber-snoops have been listening, and record Hackman meeting with his Chinese contact to green light the execution.

Armed with facts, Ben confronts Michelle. At first she refuses to believe it, despite the video surveillance. But when she goes to Hackman he tells her to grow up and accept that “politics ain’t beanbag.” He’s still bitter about his own fall from grace, even though the stories about his affairs were true.

Pfeiffer tries to warn Fishburne, but the wheels are in motion and he narrowly escapes being shot during a press conference. Think 24. As father and daughter watch the mayhem on TV, she discovers that dad orchestrated her own near-death experience – and may even be behind her husband’s demise. He was, after all, in the way of Michelle’s rise. But there’s no time to apologize. Hackman knows that Fishburne will be coming for him and escapes in his private jet.

The voting proceeds – until Michelle sends word that she’s withdrawing from the race. Her backers are furious until she delivers a Nixon-like farewell about getting beyond hate and not allowing yourself be used. The next night Affleck delivers his acceptance speech, asking the delegates to choose Fishburne as his running mate. Ben has realized that making change means more than giving great rhetoric.

Four months later Ben wins the race. Alone in his mansion, Hackman watches the returns. Outside, two assassins infiltrate the property. Realizing he’s toast, Gene has a drink and looks at a scrapbook of better days with his daughter. At the victory party Ben hoists his running mate’s arm for the traditional victory photo. A single gunshot. And Larry flashes a smile that says “mission accomplished.” Snap! And fade out.

Oh, yes. Fishburne also delivers a catch phrase. During his showdown with Ben, he answers the threat of candor with this: “The truth? Boo-coo inconvenient.”

BONUS FEATURE: Momentum is just a treatment at this point. But it’s not so far from reality – and a lot less risky. It also raises the question of just what it takes to be president. As it stands, the job basically revolves around persuading mass audiences to believe whatever you say – regardless of what you know – and making dubious plot twists credible. Electability is important, but believability is what makes you electable.

Considering all that, actors appear to have the edge and we might be better off putting one of them, rather than some less-than-convincing politician, in the White House.

We’re already had an actor in the role, Ronald Reagan, who certainly knew how to sustain audience appeal and sell almost anything – from Borax to Star Wars. And for a while we had an actor in the 2008 race, Fred Thompson. He’d even played a president, Ulysses Grant, in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. But Thompson couldn’t stick with the new script and seemed less than committed to the part.

An actor who has played a fictional president might be the best choice, since that would provide experience dealing with a crisis that hasn’t happened yet. Bill Pullman, for example, saved us from an alien invasion in Independence Day, and Harrison Ford faced off terrorists in Air Force One. Or how about John Travolta? He played a fictional Bill Clinton and can actually fly a plane.

Martin Sheen may be destined for the role. In The Dead Zone he played a presidential candidate whom Christopher Walken foresaw blowing up the planet. Yet years later Sheen was back as the most popular president in TV history on The West Wing. The man definitely has learned from “experience.”

Other strong prospects, all of whom have actually played President at some point, include Sam Waterston, Jimmy Smits, Alan Alda, Tom Selleck, William Petersen, Tim Robbins, Michael Douglas, Rip Torn, Robert Duval, Michael Keaton, James Brolin, Billy Bob Thornton, James Crowley, the Quaid brothers, Jeff and Beau Bridges, even Kris Kristofferson. It’s a good starting lineup, and there are dozens more. How about a Black president? Try James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman, Chris Rock or Dennis Haysbert. Anyway you slice it, we’re in better hands. The supply of women candidates is limited at this point, but Geena Davis kicked ass on Commander in Chief – and then won a Golden Globe “endorsement” for Best Actress. Glenn Close, Patty Duke, Patricia Wettig … they all have the acting chops. We like them, they’ve been vetted at the box office, and they’re ready to work.

Think of it this way: The Presidency has become a renewable contract to perform on the biggest stage of all, and the role calls for star quality, basic believability, a gift for conveying compassion and rapport, plus an instinct for improvisation and adapting to public taste. Restricting the field to governors and senators clearly hasn’t worked out. The best they can do is lame guest shots on SNL and The Daily Show. So why not try someone who can at least act the part? Just kidding, but that would be a change.


For more writing from former Toward Freedom Editor Greg Guma, visit his new blog, Maverick Media: Inside and outside media politics and the alternative press.