TV Review: HBO's 'Recount' recalls horror of hanging chads

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HBO's "Recount" (9 p.m. Sunday) is an entertaining political drama, one in which both Democrats and Republicans get dinged, but the film is clearly sympathetic toward the underdog Democrats.

"Recount" tells the story of the 2000 election and the tight race in Florida between Vice President Al Gore and then-Gov. George W. Bush. Since everyone knows Bush prevailed, there's no suspense about the outcome, but following the twisted, oftentimes maddening journey to that point is filled with tension and dark humor.

Credit that to actor-turned-screenwriter Danny Strong, better known for playing nerdy Jonathan on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and college newspaper editor Doyle on "Gilmore Girls." This is his first produced screenplay. Strong and director Jay Roach ("Meet the Parents") set up and repeatedly hit home what they perceive as the key strategic differences between the Bush and Gore campaigns and their reactions to the recount.

  • Starring: Kevin Spacey, Denis Leary
  • When: 9 p.m. Sunday, HBO.

James Baker (Tom Wilkinson) for Bush declares: "This is a street fight for the presidency of the United States."

Cut to Warren Christopher (John Hurt) for Gore, who states, "We want to proceed as if this is a proper political process, not a street fight."

"Recount" is told from the point of view of Ron Klain (Kevin Spacey), Gore's former chief of staff, who's nursing a grudge over being kicked out of the campaign, although he has recently returned. He pushes to fight for recounts with the assistance of Michael Whouley (Denis Leary, "Rescue Me"), an election data whiz.

Laura Dern plays Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, dolled up in far too much makeup, as the ultimate know-nothing. It's a hilarious and vicious portrayal. Is it intended to be a parody or a portrait? Viewers will make that call.

"Ten years ago I was teaching the chicken dance to seniors. And now I've been thrust into an electoral tempest of historical dimensions," the clueless Harris tells a far more intelligent aide. "And the eyes of the world have landed on me!"

Even Baker declares, "This woman is hopeless. We're gonna need some help on this."

But "Recount" is not just a dark comedy, it's a dense, dramatic exploration of the fallibility of the American electoral process that, per the film's script, illegally disqualified 20,000 people from voting, half of them African Americans.

Perhaps the film's greatest, necessary flaw -- aside from poor casting for the voice of Gore, heard only over the phone -- is that the story is as exhausting as the film's almost two-hour running time. For Democratic partisans, watching "Recount" may be a painful prospect.

In the end, neither political campaign looks all that good. The Republicans appear to be bullying thugs and the Democrats seem overly high-minded and out of touch with political reality. As we find ourselves in another election year, the lessons of "Recount" might prove useful to those crafting strategy for the current presidential campaigns.

Contact TV editor Rob Owen at or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at .


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