Part satire, part expose, part commentary, the political drama "Knife Fight" targets some pretty familiar topics. Unfortunately, it doesn't do so in a new or illuminating way. Saying that the American political process is corrupt AND unscrupulous is like preaching to the choir. Is there anyone left with the idealism necessary to make this thought even remotely controversial or incendiary? Just watching the smear campaigns, the Internet rumors, and the negative press during every election season, it seems pretty clear that it is a flawed system (perhaps even irreparably flawed). There is no civility, but a policy of doing whatever necessary to gain the upper hand. That said, there have been some brilliant films to address the subject that were both merciless and unforgettable. "Knife Fight," in the end, doesn't offer anything to the debate. It's pleasant, watchable, and has an attractive and likable cast and maybe that's enough for some. But it lacks teeth, surprise, and true controversy. Heck, I think 1949's "All The King's Men" is still more relevant and shocking than this piece!
Rob Lowe plays the power broker at the heart of the movie. A savvy political strategist, Lowe is the point person for several notable campaigns including a scandalized California senator (a solid David Harbour) and a philandering Kentucky governor (Erik McCormack). With the help of his faithful staff (including newbie Jamie Chung), they are doctors of spin turning negatives into positives whenever possible. And if not possible, just make the other guy look even worse! At its best, "Knife Fight" does showcase some amusing campaign ads. They are, to me, the most effective aspect of the film's screenplay. At worst, the film threatens to turn all warm and fuzzy with the idea of a qualified, but inexperienced, doctor (Carrie-Anne Moss) who wants to vie for the gubernatorial seat. This foray into idealism is both corny and unbelievable and contains a shocking turn of events that won't surprise anyone. It's all formulaic and predictable.
"Knife Fight," initially, doesn't even seem to know what kind of movie it wants to be and that is reflected in a confused narrative structure. It begins with a voice-over observation by Chung, indicating that we will be seeing things unspool from her perspective. It also uses graphics to identify major players and their titles giving the introduction a faux documentary feel. But neither of these devices is followed through with for very long so one wonders why they were used at all. Instead, it plays as light drama or light satire. I'm not even sure which! It is all rather mild mannered and tepid, but it thinks it is being provocative. Maybe I'm particularly jaded, but it takes quite a bit more to shock and/or appall me. Despite this, I didn't hate "Knife Fight." It's not a terrible movie, just not the meaningful one it intends to be. Lowe is good, Chung is appealing, and the cast is loaded with familiar faces. For "Knife Fight" to have been a success, it simply had to be smarter than it is and more committed to taking chances. Extremely lightweight, I won't remember anything about this in a few months. KGHarris, 6/13.