FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2018 -- I freely admit I was somewhat prejudiced against Jason Reitman's latest film, even before I stepped foot in the theater. Sadly, my apprehensions were correct. John Papsidera did a horrible job of casting and Reitman erred in sticking with the cast.


It's not like the principles didn't give substantial performances - Hugh Jackman, Vera Farminga, J.K. Simmons and little known actress Sara Paxton do the best they can. But this is one of those ensemble films that is more visual than performance based. It loses it's believability when you look at the characters and watch the narrative play out.


It doesn't even matter how accurate story is or if it took lots of poetic license... when you're done watching it, you won't believe it, despite the fact it really happened.

The bottom line of the story is that Senator Gary Hart (played by Hugh Jackman) from Colorado was the democratic favorite to go against George H W Bush in 1988. But, within [what the film claims is three weeks], his campaign fell apart when photos appear of him with a hot blonde gal named Donna Rice (played by Sara Paxton). Having lived through it, I would argue the campaign collapsed in less than a week, but I'll give Reitman the benefit of the doubt.


The film relates the Miami Herald's scoop on the affair by depicting the reporters and staff as inept bumblers who nearly lost the story. In fact, instead of highlighting the power of the fifth estate, it subtly enforces Donald Trump's rants of fake news. The film depicts a weakened press that needs to resort to sensationalism to make money.


On the political side, the film focuses on Gary Harts team, led by Bill Dixon (Simmons) as they try to get ahead of the story and tamp it down. The film fails to put into context what made the Senator not only a viable Democratic candidate nor does it look at the dynamics of the senator that drew people to him even during a booming economy. Instead it looks at Senator Hart's wife, Lee Hart (played by Farminga) as the dutiful wife crushed by her husbands outed extramarital exploits.


And you will sit there and wonder why this doesn't seem believable, even though it's true. It is because Lee Hart - in reality - was not near as sexy and sultry as Vera Farminga. When you look on the screen you are not asking yourself how could Gary Hart step out on Lee Hart, but how can Hugh Jackman step out on that sexy Vera Farminga with a gal who is at best, so-so. The reality is that Donna Rice was a true hottie and Lee Hart was unprepossessing even in her younger years.


If you're going to cast Farminga, you have to cast a young actress that's hotter (if any) - maybe Amber Heard or Natasha Henstridge or Brooklyn Decker - otherwise it's not believable, despite the performances. It's visual. It's the underlying reason no one believed Hart when he said he didn't do it; Rice was just too hot looking and Lee was not. Period.


There are really cool moments in the film, like the playback of one of Johnny Carson's monologues that were the final nails in Gary Hart's coffin. But the movie does the exact opposite of what recent new media films like "The Post", "Spotlight", and "Zodiac" had done. While those films held the legitimate press in high esteem, this film makes it seem like an entity of buffoons.


It is almost unbelievable that Reitman, the same director who developed "Up In the Air", "Juno" and the recent "Tully" could slip this far with a subject that truly changed the landscape of politics.


"The Front Runner" fails to present the Gary Hart incident in it's truest light by miscasting principle players and turning the legitimate press into a one ring circus of fools that put making money above telling the truth.   -- GRADE C+ --   GEOFF BURTON