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Analysis: Hit and miss elections ads

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   Aug. 25, 2004 at 6:15 PM
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 25 (UPI) -- A lineup of anti-Bush ads created by Hollywood celebrities intended for deployment between now and Election Day is a mixed bag, with some offering clever, sure-footed political rhetoric, while others come off as a bit clumsy.

The liberal political organization MoveOn PAC unveiled the ads at an all-star celebrity gala in New York Tuesday, called "10 Weeks: Don't Get Mad, Get Even!" The ads -- scheduled to run through Election Day -- were created by such filmmakers as Rob Reiner, Darren Aronofsky and Allison Anders, with appearances by Hollywood stars including Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Kevin Bacon and Rebecca Romijn.

MoveOn said it would roll out a new ad each week in support of John Kerry's presidential campaign.

First up is "Everybody," written and directed by Benny Boom, who has directed music videos for P. Diddy, Nelly and Kelly Rowland, and commercials for Reebok and Footlocker.

The spot begins with one young black man on a cell phone saying: "Get everybody together. It ain't going down like this."

As he walks through the neighborhood, more and more people -- mostly other young, urban black males -- join him. They arrive at a polling place, where two men wearing badges stop them and demand to know what the problem is.

The leader of the march says: "There's no problem. We're here to vote." With that, everyone in the group emphatically raises his right hand to flash a voter-registration card.

The tone of the spot is confrontational, and the closing image is somewhat reminiscent of the "black-power salute." The narrative employs reverse expectation -- taking a scene that suggests impending urban unrest and turning it into an endorsement of electoral solutions to pressing social problems.

The spot may help motivate urban voters on Nov. 2, but -- given its powerfully suggestive images -- it also runs the risk of being misunderstood as perhaps overly confrontational.

"Stranded Republicans" features supermodel Rebecca Romijn ("X-Men") as a woman who rescues a stranded motorist with a Bush-Cheney bumper sticker on his car. As she drives him to a roadside diner, she talks to him about budget deficits, privacy and due-process issues and Saudi oil barons -- and manages to persuade him to take a bumper sticker that says: "Another Republican for Kerry."

The ad -- which recalls a Vietnam-era poster featuring singer Joan Baez that read: "Girls say yes to boys who say no" -- is evidently meant as a joke, since it is hard to buy the notion that a person can be so dissuaded in so short a time.

The campaign features a series of ads featuring Jimmy the Cab Driver, a character originated on MTV by Donal Logue, who starred in the TV series "Grounded for Life" and the movie "The Patriot." The ads were written by Jay Tarver, who directed the "Jimmy" spots on MTV, as well as a series of "Got Milk?" commercials.

It is hard to tell from one spot to the next whether Jimmy -- a big-city cabbie -- is cynical, misinformed, blissfully ignorant or some combination of these and more. His non-stop chatter -- directed at passengers in his cab -- sometimes makes him seem to admire the qualities the MoveOn PAC deplores in President Bush.

In one spot, he offers suggestions on how Bush can get more money for his campaign out of the logging industry. In another, he gives a roughly inaccurate description of the war on terror, then seems to give Bush credit for such a smart plan.

"It's His Job or Yours" -- written by Darren Aronofsky ("Requiem for a Dream"), directed by Doug Liman ("Swingers") and narrated by Matt Damon ("Saving Private Ryan") -- features a series of visual images showing the potential consequences of lost jobs. A teacher disappears, leaving her class without instruction. A doctor disappears while examining a patient. And firefighters disappear in the course of fighting a fire, leaving a house to burn.

Possibly the least effective of the ads is "American Opinion," by filmmaker John Sayles ("Lone Star," "Eight Men Out"). It consists of a montage of people -- a diverse group in virtually every respect -- objecting to the policies of the Bush administration. However, the speakers seem to be reading from a script, and the spot's lack of spontaneity might hinder its chances of moving many voters.

Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn, said the goal of the ads is to motivate political activity by entertaining viewers.

"Using humor and creativity, we believe they'll speak to a much broader audience than the same old Washington consultant-driven advertisements do," he said.

And yet, the creators of these spots are also doing something that campaign consultants do, perhaps as well as anyone. By making full use of current media technology and delivery systems -- which now include more cable channels and Internet hookups than ever before -- they are able to direct their messages to their intended audiences in ways that were neither technically nor financially possible in past campaigns.

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

© 2004 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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