W. & r & & r & by MARYANN JOHANSON & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & urely this is the greatest satire of the American presidency ever made for film. It's like Being There, but far more terrifying: Instead of a wise, gentle idiot becoming president, here it's an incurious, perpetually adolescent idiot. Surely this would be a horror story if it were true, but since it's safely ensconced in the realm of cinematic nonsense, we can breathe easy.
For the moment, at least. Director Oliver Stone offers us a cautionary tale, for as preposterous as W. is in its suppositions, it is profound in its implications: If someone like George W. Bush were to become president, the consequences would be incalculably awful.
Stone and his screenwriter Stanley Weiser have invented a scenario that calls to mind Karl Marx's dictum about how history repeats itself, "the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce." They give us a late-'80s/early-'90s president called George H.W. Bush (James Cromwell), father to their anti-Chauncey Gardiner here, who takes the nation to a short but, by all accounts, brilliantly executed war in the Middle East; his re-election is cut off, however, by economic worries that overshadow the military victory, and the elder Bush is left a bitter and broken man.
Enter George W. Bush (a vivid yet intentionally appalling creation of actor Josh Brolin). As the film opens, he is already president during the early 2000s, and he is a shocking caricature, all the worst qualities of politicians bound up in one swaggering package. (Was it H.L. Mencken who foresaw the White House eventually being adorned by a downright moron?) Worse, Stone and Weiser posit a nation at war. A dreadful terrorist attack has, apparently, taken place on American soil, and this is the excuse the president's advisors, a pack of cunning jackals, take to manipulate Bush into launching a preemptive war against a Middle Eastern country that had nothing to do with the attack.
Stone and Weiser are never content to leave any bit of preposterousness alone, and as they flash back to the decades that brought the younger Bush to the presidency, it may get to be a bit too much. Bush is a failure at everything he attempts: No matter how high up his family connections get him kicked, he ruins it. Could a man like that ever become president? Is that too ridiculous even for a clearly satirical movie?
But one cannot judge a movie like this on its likeliness, just on how well it runs with its baloney. And this one sprints all the way to a triumphant finish line. Brolin is endlessly amusing, as when he's saying things such as "My dream is to see peace break out in the Middle East," as if he were a beauty pageant contestant. Stone brings a riotously mock-tragic undertone to it all, from his ironic soundtrack to the way he stages the planning sequences for Bush's war, as if it were something out of a 1960s James Bond movie, half a dozen maniacal lunatics -- Richard Dreyfuss' "Vice President Cheney" being the most outrageous of them -- locked in a room and planning an eternal occupation of the Middle East.
We can't laugh so hard at W., though, that we don't heed its warning. Mencken said it, Stone is saying it again, and I believe it: If we're not careful, we're heading for the day when a downright moron occupies the White House. (Rated PG-13)