Running a one-man race

Movie: Election

Our Rating: 2.50

The adage states that some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them. Tracy Flick belongs to a fourth group: Those who thrust greatness upon themselves because they've never been told to expect less.

As played to perfection by a winning Reese Witherspoon in the dark comedy "Election," Tracy is a fiercely ambitious high-schooler who sets her sights on the office of student-council president. And why not? When one of her teachers poses a question, hers is always the first hand to shoot up. Her posture is immaculate. Called upon to address the student body, she pauses in all the right places and for the correct number of seconds.

She's also so completely obnoxious about her inevitable rise to power that a world-weary adult could be excused for wanting to cut her off at the knees. To that end, "Election" gives us Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), a teacher who sabotages Tracy's unopposed candidacy by convincing football hero Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) to throw his helmet into the ring. Soon, a dark-horse contender also has entered the fray -- Paul's lesbian sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell), who taps an unexpected wellspring of pupil hostility by adopting an anarchist platform that calls for the dissolution of school government in toto.

With those elements in place, "Election" should play out as a wise send-up of pubescent politics, perhaps even of the electoral process as a whole. But it's hardly a balanced ticket: The film spends so much time following Tracy's sorry challengers that we empathize with our alleged villain instead of loathing her. Denied her expected sweep, she's forced into a supporting role in her own movie.

We'd rather be watching her than the dim-wittedly benign Paul, who's played by Klein as if he's borderline brain-damaged. And Broderick, who is incapable of impersonating a high-school graduate let alone an instructor, plays a character who is corrupt in a way the supposedly cutthroat Tracy couldn't hope to approximate. When he isn't falsifying the election returns to ensure her loss, he's carrying on an extramarital affair with the ex-wife of a former colleague. And he's our moral compass?

In comparison, Tracy comes out smelling like a rose. Given the sleaze and ineptitude around her, we can't help but throw our support behind her problematic but entertaining personality. Of such "choices" are elections always made.


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