Oliver Stone's W. begins and ends in a baseball stadium, a field of dreams empty except for one fan who must have sneaked through an unguarded side door.
In the prologue, the fan thrusts his arms skyward, basking in imaginary cheers. In the finale, he chases a fly ball that disappears beyond light poles into darkness. An error is inevitable. The fan's spooked expression suggests he'd rather be anywhere else than here. The fan in the fantasies is President George W. Bush. The political symbolism is among the few times that W. feels like an Oliver Stone movie.
After rushing through production for a pre-election release, W. isn't politically important enough for timing to matter. The filmmaker considered by many as a liberal rabble-rouser seldom displays the audaciousness that previously and vividly translated national nightmares to film. W. is a lame duck movie about a lame duck president.
Surprisingly, Stone and screenwriter Stanley Weiser never set an agenda for portraying Bush's ascension from drunken frat boy to decider of the Free World. Is he a silver-spoon opportunist or a Capraesque success? Someone affable enough to overlook his mistakes, or a fall guy who should've known better? The Oliver Stone who accused JFK assassins, laid bare Vietnam War wounds and dissected Richard Nixon more delicately (and rightfully) than he seemed to deserve is missing here.
In his place is the creator of a biography on the level of a made-for-TV movie, ripped from headlines and cribbed from Saturday Night Live skits. Aiming for satire, Stone hits only easy laughs such as Bush's malapropisms and having him speak with his mouth full.
Amid all this unraked muck, Josh Brolin's yeehaw impersonation of Bush is the film's constant pleasure. The physical resemblance is remarkable, the twang and swagger pitch-perfect. Stone appears to like the president, if not his policies, declining to cast him as a demagogue or puppet, as detractors have. He's just a honky-tonkin', good ol' boy, sassing his rich daddy and dodging work until finding Jesus during a hangover jog.
Stone smartly cast look-alike actors for key roles: Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney, Scott Glenn as Donald Rumsfeld and Elizabeth Banks as the first lady. Thandie Newton is a dead ringer for Condoleezza Rice but can't spit her lines around her dental prosthetics.
W. is a disappointment for anyone waiting to shower Stone with praise or anger for what he or she expects the movie to be. Given a chance at an easy popup, the liberal loses his nerve, taking his eye off the ball as it disappears.