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Dole takes on the movies: the sequel

It's hard to tell who is more obsessed with disaster, Republicans or Hollywood executives. One group is scrambling to avoid it, while the other is scrambling to peddle it.

Michael Eisner is said to have a bad case of Twister-envy, and everybody else here is rushing around trying to rock the screen with a natural disaster or, better still, an unnatural one, caused by slimy, retro space aliens zapping Earth with blue beams.

We're talking floods, infernos, comets, collapsing tunnels and pestilence. We're talking earthquake-meets-volcano and spews hot lava on Beverly Hills boutiques.

"Somebody in a script meeting told me, "We've finally figured out how to build a story line around meteorites,' " said Marty Kaplan, a screenwriter. He described one screenplay making the rounds, 10 Plagues, about a crusading district attorney who can handle the onslaught of locusts, floods and frogs, but gets upset at the prospect of the slaying of the first born, because that hits too close to home. (No doubt the studio would plan a Passover release.)

Hollywood and Republicans share the same problem: With the Cold War over but millennium jitters upon us, new bad guys are required.

Hollywood is villainizing the weather, viruses and aliens.

Bob Dole is villainizing Hollywood.

In the old days, candidates used to get money from Wall Street and attack Wall Street. Now they go to Hollywood for the same reasons _ to court it for cash or attack it for trash.

Absent any other content to his presidential race and unable to get any traction mocking Bill Clinton's character, Dole is returning to the theme of the last effective speech he made. Last summer, he came to a fund-raising dinner here and lashed the entertainment industry for producing sex-and-violence filled "nightmares of depravity."

At that time, Dole, a C-Span devotee who is fuzzy on popular culture, conceded he had not seen movies he was criticizing or recommending. He made the mistake of citing Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger's True Lies _ which had plenty of gunplay, not to mention a really creepy misogynist sex scene _ as an example of a film with good values.

This time, Dole's staff is going to make sure he sees the movie before praising it. Accompanied by William Bennett, the values czar who has crusaded against gangsta rap and tawdry talk shows, Dole attended a showing of Independence Day Monday at Grauman's Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard.

Today, according to his communications director, John Buckley, the candidate will give "Hollywood 2 _ the sequel," a speech lambasting the movie industry for not making more "uplifting" movies like the alien invasion megahit. (Never mind the fact that about 700-million people get killed and every weapon in the U.S. arsenal is deployed. Never mind that the heroine is _ once again _ a stripper and that it is filled with '50s-style ethnic and gender stereotypes. Rather, let's focus on the John Wayne clarity and patriotism and the war hero president.)

The laconic Dole has formed a bond with the voluble Bennett, the former education secretary and drug czar who knows how to grab public attention on the spicy topic of restoring a sense of shame to society.

This partnership is working better than the Liddy-and-Bob Traveling Medicine Show. Dole spent a couple of weeks trying to use the same soft TV talk show format that worked so well for Clinton and his sax in the summer of '92, bringing along his wife, Elizabeth, to soften up his image. But she was "wound too tight," as one campaign aide conceded, especially after she could not intercede to save her husband from his weird confrontation with Katie Couric.

The candidate did a warm-up for his West Coast trip in his Republican radio address Saturday by attacking the entertainment, recording and fashion industries for "glamorizing drug use" and encouraging heroin chic. Noting that heroin use has skyrocketed, he bemoaned the deaths of River Phoenix, Kurt Cobain and Smashing Pumpkins' Jonathan Melvoin.

Aides to Dole, who have been fretting that the 73-year-old former majority leader seemed culturally out of touch, were thrilled that he actually spoke the words "Smashing Pumpkins." It was, they said, a breakthrough moment.

New York Times News Service