Patching together bits of real life ripped from the tabloids, the low-budget PRIMARY MOTIVE is a sharply written political melodrama which provides an entertaining trash wallow with a sort-of-famous all-star cast.
The son of a retired behind-the-scenes political powerplayer, Andy Blumenthal (Judd Nelson) wants to follow in his father's footsteps. His dad Ken (Malachi Throne) trades an endorsement to get Andy the second-in-command press job with a Republican hopeful for governor of Massachusetts during the
primary campaign. Stately John Eastham's (Frank Converse) main liability as a candidate is his stubborn commitment to truth and integrity down to ordering a change in a campaign bumper sticker that omits the "for" in the "Eastham for Governor" slogan. This "quirk" drives dyspeptic press secretary
Paul Melton (Joe Grifasi) to sputtering fits of impotent rage--out of Eastham's earshot of course. It also prevents Melton from running the kind of down-and-dirty campaign that he's sure he could win. His mood brightens, however, when Andy takes the sleaze initiative.
After inducing his girlfriend Darcy Link (Justine Bateman) to get a job on the opposing campaign of blue-collar, second-generation immigrant Chris Poulas (Richard Jordan), Andy gets a tip from her that Poulas has fabricated key parts of his background that have become the centerpiece of his
candidacy. After confirming the allegations, Andy passes the information to reporter Wallace Roberts (John Savage). Cornered, Poulas decides to go the full denial route and turn the attack back on Roberts and his pro-Democrat paper. Impressed by Poulas's hubris, Darcy switches beds from Andy's to
that of the married candidate and finds a way to exploit both her relationship with Andy and the suicide of Poulas's emotionally disturbed daughter by slipping a false story to Andy regarding the daughter for the sole purpose of exposing it at a press conference in order to discredit Roberts once
and for all. This final, diabolically cynical press coup wins Poulas both the primary and the general election, with Darcy riding along not only as his mistress but also as his press secretary-designate.
PRIMARY MOTIVE has a fair share of plot holes. However, writer-director Daniel Adams, abetted by co-scripter William Snowden, manages to convey so plausibly the atmosphere and the personalities of a pressure-cooker election that even the holes seem to work in the film's favor.
For example, it wouldn't take a rocket scientist to expose the lies of Poulas's campaign since they are such whoppers. He falsely claims a degree from Yale and military service in Vietnam and overstates the income of his stock-brokering business fourfold. Of all the rocket scientists involved,
however, only Andy thinks to verify Poulas's claims and even then it's only at the prodding of Darcy who, after walking off the street as a campaign volunteer, is immediately given enough up-close-and-personal access to Poulas to spot both the chinks in his armor and the weakness in his fly. None
of this would be believable for a second were it not for the circus-like atmosphere that permeates real-life American politics from Bush dumping lunch in the Japanese premier's lap to Gennifer Flowers to Ross Perot on national TV exposing government plots to disrupt a family wedding with faked-up
dirty pictures of his daughter-bride.
Clearly the fiction could never outstrip the reality, but what PRIMARY MOTIVE has that even BOB ROBERTS lacked as political satires go is an unmistakable feeling of behavioral realism. The seduction of power is almost palpable here in a way that makes the people going after it go a little crazy.
The filmmakers are careful not to caricature Eastham, for example. His decency and integrity are made to seem genuine, but shouldn't he have more important things to worry about than bumper stickers? Poulas is portrayed with a similar humanity distorted by politics. And anyone who doubts either
the plausibility or effectiveness of his own strategy should take a closer look at President Clinton's campaign that earned him a Teflon reputation in the face of almost nonstop allegations--some well-documented--against his own career and personality.
Conviction also helps, and Adams has drawn it in spades from his cast. Nelson is as bug-eyed and overwrought as ever and, for once, it fits his character. Bateman, meanwhile, imbues her character with a sexual delight in her manipulations. The supporting cast underplays effectively, particularly
the reliable Jordan and, most surprisingly, Sally Kirkland as Poulas's run-ragged spouse. As the press secretary for whom no blow is too low, however, Grifasi virtually steals the film with the help of the screenplay's sharpest, funniest lines. Altogether they make PRIMARY MOTIVE fast-moving,
mean-spirited fun. (Profanity, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: R
- Review: Patching together bits of real life ripped from the tabloids, the low-budget PRIMARY MOTIVE is a sharply written political melodrama which provides an entertaining trash wallow with a sort-of-famous all-star cast. The son of a retired behind-the-scenes po… (more)