Mad City - * *

How hard is it to pick on the media? I mean, besides used car salesmen, politicians and television evangelists, it’s pretty difficult to come up with someone more untrustworthy. Mad City stirs up a big commotion over the corruption of the media, something that’s hardly a surprise to anyone, and hardly worth the price of admission.

Max Brackett (Dustin Hoffman) is a television news reporter looking for a break. He doesn’t believe he’ll find it on his latest puff assignment: covering budget cuts at a local museum. However, he stumbles upon a story that may revitalize his career.

Near closing time, the recently laid-off security guard, Sam (John Travolta), storms in the museum, demanding to speak with his former boss, Mrs. Banks (Blythe Danner). When she refuses to speak to him, Sam pulls a shotgun. In the ensuing chaos, he discovers he has made hostages out of not only Mrs. Banks, but a class of visiting schoolchildren and reporter Max Brackett.

Sam is befuddled…he has no idea of what to do next. However, he soon finds a new best friend in Max, who smells the story of a lifetime. In exchange for exclusive media access, Max guides Sam along, showing him the ropes of negotiation, hoping to keep everyone alive, but make great television.

Mac City is meant to be a scathing attack on the media. But the problem is that it’s revelations are never quite as shocking as Mad City holds them out to be. The groundbreaking assertion that television news panders to sensationalism is quite obvious to anyone who has merely glanced at a tv set in the last ten years.

This leaves it up to the actors to make or break the film, and the acting, while not bad, isn’t particularly newsworthy. Neither Travolta nor Hoffman break any new ground here. Their characters are tired, and aren’t very compelling. They’re not the sort that you want a whole movie to depend upon.

Some of the interplay between the police and the media (particularly Max’s manipulations) is diverting, but not truly gripping enough to sustain interest throughout the whole movie. Max’s rivalry with anchorman Hollander (Alan Alda) is pointless, seeking to redeem Max while at the same time the film is damning him (yeah, he’s a bad guy, but he’s a good bad guy).

Perhaps ten years ago Mad City would have been a revealing and profound film experience. However, in this day and age, the film is just picking the obvious targets.

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