Running Mates (review)

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It’s a nice fantasy: an honest politician… and one as gorgeous as Tom Selleck. Cable network TNT’s timing couldn’t be any better — Running Mates is airing between the party conventions — but this comedy/drama falls a little flat as either. A presidential hopeful, Michigan governor James Pryce (Selleck: The Love Letter) hasn’t yet announced his VP as the Democratic convention opens in L.A. Will he pick Washington insider Senator Gable (Robert Culp), puppet of big business Senator Morris (Bruce McGill: The Insider), or man of the people Senator Randall (Bob Gunton: The Perfect Storm)? But the real “running mates” here are the powers behind the Pryce throne: his wife, the consummate political spouse, Jenny (Nancy Travis), and three women he’d been sexually involved with before his marriage: his ballsy campaign manager, Lauren Hartman (Laura Linney: The Truman Show); the shallow organizer of his “Hollywood Coalition,” Shawna Morgan (Teri Hatcher: Tomorrow Never Dies); and Gable’s wife, Meg (Faye Dunaway: The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc). Characterization is trite and obvious: Shawna yells “Steven!” and “Leo!” to unseen cameos offscreen; Meg, trying to secure her husband’s VP nom, growls to Pryce’s people that she “knows where all the bodies are”; Lauren says things like “I got us here” an awful lot. By the end, it’s gotten just a wee bit too clever for its own good, as the four gals gather, quite by accident, in the bathroom for some girl talk about Jim’s skills as a lover. The satire is, I suspect, entirely unintentional: Oh, the film concedes, cynically and realistically, that the position of women in politics is usually under a man, in every way. But if writer Claudia Salter or director Ron Lagomarsino recognize that these women who speak for him, represent his interests, and work the machine of his campaign are the ones who keep him alive politically, they don’t let on. “Screw the damn polls!” Pryce barks very publicly. He gets to be the hero while the people — the women — who give this hopelessly idealistic politician plausible deniability by greasing the wheels behind his back get screwed. Literally.

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