HBO must be out of its mind okaying Jay Roach to replace ailing Sydney Pollack at the helm of its important political docudrama Recount that revisits one of the most dramatic events in U.S. history. The turmoil in Florida over hanging chads that delayed the 2000 presidential election result is one of those hot button issues that still riles both political parties. You can bet pundits will put the movie under even more of a microscope now, especially since it comes out during the 2008 presidential race. That’s because slotting in a lightweight comedy director/producer like Roach (Austin Powers, Meet The Parents, Borat) is just wrong on so many levels. For instance, Roach helped exec-produce the reality series American Candidate, which promised to find a “people’s candidate” to run in the November 2004 race for the White House. First it was jettisoned by FX, then it aired on Showtime and received rotten reviews and absolutely no buzz whatsoever. Yeah, that’s a big recommendation. Now Roach is paired on Recount with first time screenwriter Danny Strong, an actor who played sidekick roles in Gilmore Girls and Buffy The Vampire Slayer and then decided to pen a script about an American political crisis. No, I’m not kidding: this project isn’t even based on one of the many good nonfiction books about Gore vs Bush. It’s as if HBO has a death wish and is virtually asking pundits to critically kill Recount before it even airs. Granted, Pollack hasn’t made a good movie in some time, but Recount was right up his alley. And, because of Strong’s newbie status, HBO was relying on Oscar-winner Pollack’s decades of bonafides to give the telepic credibility. News reports said Pollack and Strong this summer were revising the first draft together and visiting Florida to gather more material. Now Pollack will only be exec-producing along with Paula Weinstein. Whether even these two Hollywood vets can keep the film from veering off-course, from a suspenseful drama to a heavyhanded parody, remains doubtful. Already the project is tainted: windbag HBO Films prez Colin Callender disingenuously announced from the start that the telepic would have no political agenda and take no sides. Who’s he kidding? Both Pollack and Weinstein are well-known liberal activists. Besides, what’s so wrong with simply admitting Recount‘s progressive viewpoint? Now, with the addition of Roach, Callendar seems to be guaranteeing the film won’t be taken seriously. I’ve already been critical of recent HBO executive suite moves, but now I’m starting to think the people in charge of the pay channel can’t do anything right anymore. Nor am I the only one: last month, the usually docile Television Critics Association gave HBO execs a hard time over other recent lousy programming decisions as well.
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