Murder at 1600 and Absolute Power (review)

Advice for Girls


I’ve been wondering where all the powerful female characters in movies are, and whaddaya know, Murder at 1600 and Absolute Power showed me. Tips for girls — the keys to holding power are these: you must be young, gorgeous, and dead.

In the suspenseless Murder at 1600, the dead woman is a young, gorgeous secretary or something, who — shortly after screwing the president’s son on the president’s desk — turns up stabbed numerous times in the ladies room. Wesley Snipes is the D.C. homicide detective who perfunctorily determines that she was killed in the White House to blackmail the president (a bloodless Ronny Cox) into resigning, so that when the vice president takes over, he can send the country to war with North Korea. Alive, she was nobody — but dead, she has the ability to change the world (you go, girl!). Murder at 1600 is a B-grade, by-the-books mystery (in great B tradition, it even features a once-fine actor slumming — here, Alan Alda embarrasses himself as national security advisor), but it does contain that one secret to the universe: to climb the ladder of success, girls, off yourselves.
The difference between Murder at 1600 and Absolute Power is like the difference between a streetcorner hooker and a high-priced call girl. The title, at least, asks that the viewer be slightly literate in order to recognize the allusion. Clint Eastwood is a master cat burgler past his prime who witnesses a murder while burgling the home of the rich, influential philanthropist (E.G. Marshall) who basically put the president (Gene Hackman) in the White House. The victim: the philanthropist’s young, gorgeous wife. Who, by the way, was fooling around with — get this — the president. The sex turns a little rough, and the president chickens out and screams for his secret service agents, who shoot the woman stone dead. The prez’s chief of staff (Judy Davis) also happens to be in the house (why she follows the prez around on his trysts is never explained), and she engineers the coverup — the usual: make it look like the wife interrupted a burgler. (I hear you saying, Ah, a woman chief of staff — there’s someone with some power. Unfortunately, she’s competent only on the surface and spends much of the movie in a raw state of panic.) Again, the dead woman has the potential to undo the presidency.

Absolute Power is a Columbo-style intellectual puzzle. We witness the murder along with Eastwood — the fun here is watching the good guys unravel it all and the not-so-good guys find a moral path through it. The serious star power (also including Scott Glenn as a secret service agent and Ed Harris as a homicide detective) is nicely directed by Eastwood. But this is just a better makeup job on the same misogynist theme: live woman = nothing, dead woman = power.

Wanna bring down the president? Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky have been going about things all wrong. Allegations about the president’s genitals and sex in the Oval Office? Borrr-ring. Arrange to have your bloodied — preferably partially nude — body discovered in, say, the Rose Garden, or maybe at Camp David. That’s how you get the upper hand.

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