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`Bob Roberts' Spoofs Campaigns

Though a tad lightweight, Tim Robbins's comedy cuts through Hollywood political blather. FILM REVIEW

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TO look at most Hollywood movies - and most independent movies, for that matter - you might think politics didn't exist, or at least didn't matter much.

Political subjects are rarely allowed to intrude on the action, farce, and melodrama that dominate American film. And when such a topic does try for attention - in the recent "Patriot Games," for instance, with its talk of violent nationalism - the material is generally hedged, fudged, and diluted so much that it's hard to tell what stance the filmmakers are taking, if it's a stance at all.

By contrast, television tackles controversial issues with some regularity, which helps explain why TV is often attacked by partisans who perceive bias in one direction or another. Such bias is often alleged to be liberal, although it's worth mentioning that most programming tries to be apolitical, and therefore tends to reinforce the status quo by refusing to question it. Since the status quo has been predominantly conservative in recent years, this programming isn't really apolitical, and it certainly i sn't liberal.

As for theatrical movies, the same partisans often scold them for including too much sex or violence. But complaints on more complicated issues are infrequent since movies - bankrolled largely by corporate interests - are generally too cautious (and cowardly) to touch on matters that might be very controversial.

Enter a fine exception to this boring rule: "Bob Roberts," a new movie by Tim Robbins, who directed it from his own screenplay. He also plays the title character, a right-wing folk singer (!) aiming for a big political career.

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