Deterrence

For those who pay attention to movie blurbs in newspaper and television advertisements, an enthusiastic quote from Rod Lurie of WABC Radio (or other bottom-feeders such as Jeff Craig, Susan Granger, and Paul Wunder) is a death toll, a sure sign that more respectable critics were left holding their noses. Now a director, Lurie may have to provide his own blurbs for Deterrence, a spectacularly inept political thriller that unfolds like a production of Fail-Safe by the Max Fischer Players. The ludicrous proceedings take place entirely in a snowbound Colorado diner, where the president (Kevin Pollak), his chief of staff (Timothy Hutton), and his national-security adviser (Sheryl Lee Ralph) are holed up after the state primary. When they learn from a TV report that Saddam Hussein's son (!) has reinvaded Kuwait, the president presents the Iraqis with an ultimatum: Either they retreat or he'll drop an H-bomb on Baghdad in an hour and a half. Iraq counters by training 23 of its own missiles on the U.S. and other major global targets, escalating the possibility of a nuclear holocaust. Staged with the mise-en-scene of a sock-puppet show, Deterrence assumes the grave tone of real political intrigue, which only makes it unintentionally funnier as the implausibilities begin to mount. Given the almost routine circumstances, how could a major city be annihilated with so little provocation? Why are its innocent millions given such a short time to evacuate? What is the leader of the free world doing soliciting advice from a fry cook, a belligerent redneck, and a French-Canadian waitress? Lurie seems convinced that all this could happen if a madman were in charge—the fact that the madman is pointedly Jewish raises another arsenal of questions—but never has the prospect of a nuclear holocaust seemed so reassuringly farfetched.

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