Showtime manages to compress sex, the mob, Frank Sinatra and JFK into an awfully dull telepic that makes Harlequin romances seem profound by comparison. A memoir of one of history’s lesser-known mistresses, the cabler’s “Power and Beauty” is fixated on a person who just isn’t that interesting, at least the way she’s portrayed here. With the right components in place to make something fun out of tabloid fodder, it’s hard to believe a collection of pros, both on the executive level and behind the camera, weren’t able to inject any sizzle whatsoever.
Judith Campbell Exner became newsworthy only for a brief moment, in 1975, after she had been subpoenaed by a Senate committee that wanted to uncover the details behind her relationship with President Kennedy and his connections to mafia strongarm Sam Giancana. A “nice” L.A. girl with a few ties to glory and fame through her actress sister, she and Kennedy apparently began an affair as he was charging toward the White House. He set her up in an apartment and often flew her in, and she became infatuated with clout and didn’t care about his marriage to Jackie.
A statuesque looker, Exner (Natasha Henstridge) wasn’t exactly the purest soul around. By the time she met Kennedy, she had already divorced actor Billy Campbell (Grant Nickalls) and, so she says, had a fling with Sinatra (John Ralston) that ultimately led to her involvement with the president.
Sinatra also introduced her to Giancana (Peter Friedman), a move that eventually turned her role as the commander-in-chief’s main squeeze into something more complex and political. FBI topper Herbert Hoover alleged that she had been a pawn, a go-between who brought money and information back and forth between Kennedy’s White House and Giancana in Chicago. She, of course, insisted that they loved each other all along. Exner died in 1999 of cancer.
Director Susan Seidelman, who peaked back in 1985 with “Desperately Seeking Susan,” and three writers have given zero edge to “Beauty”; change the players, and this becomes another story about a woman who falls for the wrong guy and is too intoxicated with excitement to do anything about it.
As the leaders’ link, Henstridge is sultry but rather stiff. With an obvious splendor that explains how all of these influential men could have fallen for her, Exner, as Henstridge plays her, is neither dangerous nor unique enough to justify ruining a campaign or a career. As Kennedy, Anderson is actually quite good — physically similar, not too overstated on the accent and extremely suave. Supporting cast is nothing special, with Friedman playing quite possibly the nicest, most sympathetic mobster in history, while the brief glimpses into the Rat Pack are noteworthy for how silly Peter Lawford and Sammy Davis Jr. are depicted.
Era’s feel is the project’s best aspect, with 1960s hairstyles, architecture and costuming on the money.