Bob Roberts

A sometimes brilliant if overloaded pseudodocumentary satire, Tim Robbins’s first feature as writer-director (1992) is an angry catalog of media abuses in the realm of politics. (Properly speaking, there are no real characters here, only types and images, which is part of the point.) Robbins plays a folksinging Pennsylvania conservative running for the U.S. Senate against fuddy-duddy liberal incumbent Brickley Paiste (Gore Vidal) shortly before the Persian Gulf war. The functioning of media itself is Robbins’s true subject, and it’s exciting to see him appropriating some of the ideas of his mentor Robert Altman and giving them more bite than Altman ever has. Robbins is attempting too much here, but the 70 percent or so that he brings off borders on delightful. With Giancarlo Esposito, Alan Rickman, Ray Wise, Brian Murray, and some deadly cameos by John Cusack (in a brutal takeoff on Saturday Night Live), Peter Gallagher, Bob Balaban, Susan Sarandon, Fred Ward, and James Spader. R, 101 min. (JR)

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