Mad City

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In our infinite quest to turn the English language into a subliterate mess, we have added the word "stalkarazzi" in honor of those daring young men with their cameras who allegedly sent Di and her Dodi off into jet-set oblivion. Fingers were pointed as the tears and Elton John drivel flowed.

Now Hollywood, ever timely, has weighed in with a ludicrous indictment of the bottom end of the journalism food chain, from director Costa Gavras. How the mighty have fallen! Z, Missing and then this inept attempt at satire?

A security guard (John Travolta) loses his job when a museum downsizes. He shows up at his old job to try to negotiate with the snooty director. Not the brightest boy in town, he takes along a bag of dynamite and a gun as gentle persuaders. Unfortunately, the gun misfires and one of his fellow guards goes down. It looks very bad for everyone concerned, except for a notorious tabloid journalist (Dustin Hoffman) caught in the bathroom after he has interviewed the director about cuts to the museum. Suddenly he has the big scoop that will propel him out of the sticks and back to the big city and he's determined to milk it for all it's worth.

Forget the breathtaking staleness of the premise for a moment. What to do about Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta? Travolta has been asked to reprise his dimwitted yet benign hillbilly role from a previous stinker. Somehow, despite yet another bad outing, he continues to cash in. As does Hoffman, who has a penchant for playing enervating weasels. Only Alan Alda, as a threadbare anchor trying to hold onto what's left of his integrity, makes a favorable impression.

Frankly, American public life, with all its incredible vulgarities and violence relentlessly shuttled back and forth between the viewers and the cameras, has become a dead pornography, uninviting and unexciting. And one supposes, on that level, Mad City has given us an accurate portrait of how things are. Depressing news, indeed.

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