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Jonathan Storm: Toting up the losses in Florida recount

HBO presents a film tonight at 9 about the last days of the 2000 presidential election, when all eyes turned to Florida's votes, and everyone learned about hanging chad.

Laura Dern portrays the Florida secretary of state, a central figure in the drama, as an incompetent preener.
Laura Dern portrays the Florida secretary of state, a central figure in the drama, as an incompetent preener.Read moreGENE PAGE

HBO presents a film tonight at 9 about the last days of the 2000 presidential election, when all eyes turned to Florida's votes, and everyone learned about hanging chad.

It's called



Here we go again.

No, no, the vote still stands, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that the Florida recount should stop because it couldn't meet a legal deadline - one that it might have met had the Supreme Court not interrupted the count in the first place.

But history is repeating itself, just as it does every time a TV film turns up about things political, and shouts go up across the land. One principal in the proceedings is particularly aggrieved, and perhaps he should be. Another, presented as even more of a buffoon, has apparently lost any platform from which to protest.

The politicos might be better served by turning their collective attention to the main problem emphasized in


: the legalistic and procedural shambles that characterizes voting in so many American precincts. Whether it's John F. Kennedy or George W. Bush, it taints elections and robs voters of their rights.

Populated by some super actors, the film, sometimes fascinating, sometimes too drawn out, gets inside the frenzied Florida jockeying for a presidential victory.

Kevin Spacey is the big star, in the lead as Ron Klain, former chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore, who was one of the leaders of the Democrats' push for Florida's votes.

Three folks known for the combination of their personal loopiness and adventuresome acting, Laura Dern, Denis Leary and Ed Begley Jr., turn in some great work. So do twice Oscar-nominated Tom Wilkinson, who rocked the house as Ben Franklin in HBO's recent

John Adams

, and secret star Bob Balaban, who seems to have done it all in TV and movies.

All of them bring a striking humanity that is one of the film's strongest attributes to the political dogfight.

Wilkinson plays the always natty James Baker 3d, leader of the Bush forces, portrayed as a most refined and competent street-fighting man. Balaban is onetime Philadelphia Bulletin reporter turned big-time political lawyer Ben Ginsberg, national counsel to the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign. Begley plays David Boies, not the straightest arrow in the quiver himself, one of America's highest-profile lawyers, who represented the Gore campaign in Florida. Leary, just as foul-mouthed and almost as edgy as

Rescue Me

's Tommy Gavin, plays mysterious Democratic strategist Michael Whouley.

It's Whouley who explains to Spacey's character that the plural of chad has no "s" and responds to his question "How hard is it to punch a paper ballot?" thus:

"Pretty [expletive] hard when you're 80-something, you're arthritic, and you're blind as a [expletive] bat."

But the best comes from Dern, known for her off-kilter characters in David Lynch movies, as well as her role as Dr. Ellie Sattler in the

Jurassic Park

series. Dern brings dark comedy to


, deftly portraying Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris as an incompetent, bubble-headed preener.

John Hurt's take on distinguished elder statesman Warren Christopher, Gore's lead man in the Florida battle, is none too flattering, either. Christopher sits on a lofty philosophical perch in an out-dated suit, unwilling and unable to outfight the Bush team.

"Much of what the author has written about me is pure fiction," the real Christopher, 82, told the New York Times. "It contained events that never occurred, words I never spoke, and decisions attributed to me that I never made."

The author here is Danny Strong, best known as a stalwart of the old WB TV network, where he played Rory Gilmore's editor at the Yale Daily News and nerd-turned-depraved sorcerer Jonathan Levinson on

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

. It's his first screenplay.

Because of that, and fearing the same kind of backlash (Democratic) that accompanied ABC's

The Path to 9/11

(2006) and (Republican) that knocked

The Reagans

(2003) off CBS and onto Showtime, HBO hired a team of magazine-writer and TV-analyst consultants, and also let some of those portrayed in the show check out the script. Christopher was not one of them.

TV movies, which always have entertainment as their primary goal, should never be taken as pristine factual sources for history. Use them, though, to help you understand the feel of an event, and the kinds of things that happened, and you're on the right track.

There is no implication as to who actually won Florida, but


demonstrates just how slipshod and inconsistent the voting process was. Some politicians and analysts from all sides of the spectrum agree that things will not be that much better in many parts of the country in November, two presidential elections later.


director Jay Roach, known more for comedy than drama as the helmsman of the Austin Powers series, summarizes the movie's main message:

"We should figure out a way to count better. No matter which side you're on, I think we would agree to that."

Jonathan Storm:



Tonight at 9 on HBO