Bill Clinton wishes he were as good at relationships as Gov. James Reynolds Pryce, a straight-talking, principled politico, whose presidential campaign is aided immeasurably by three former lovers and his fiercely loyal and protective wife in TNT’s enjoyable “Running Mates.”
A reformer with a reputation for being gutsy, Pryce (Tom Selleck) has been assured of his party’s nomination, in part, thanks to the hard work of his idealistic and savvy campaign manager Lauren Hartman (Laura Linney) and devoted wife Jenny (Nancy Travis). He has fundraiser Shawna Morgan (Teri Hatcher) to thank for winning Hollywood’s support and receives advice and direction from established Washington socialite Meg Gable (Faye Dunaway), wife of Pryce’s political mentor, Sen. Parker Gable (Robert Culp).
With the Democratic convention just days away, attention has turned to the vice presidential nomination. Meg tests Pryce’s loyalty by pushing her husband as a running mate, but Gable, although popular with Congress, is also a little too popular with the ladies — unlike Pryce, his escapades have occurred while he was married. Pryce’s other choices include Sen. Mitchell Morris (Bruce McGill), a powerful insider with ties to big business, and Sen. Terrence Randall (Bob Gunton), a junior senator who’s the leading advocate of campaign finance reform.
Full of Betty Ford and Lincoln bedroom jokes, the telepic skewers the system while maintaining a fervent sense of optimism. Claudia Salter’s script, while undeniably idealistic, nevertheless sustains an air of authenticity, thanks in great part to exec producer Gerald Rafshoon, who served as President Jimmy Carter’s director of communications.
Ron Lagomarsino’s savvy direction, and first-rate performances from Linney as the moral center of the film, as well as Selleck make this telepic enjoyable. Selleck, an interesting choice for the Democrat Pryce, sticks close to his usual good-guy image, but gives his character plenty of depth.
All four female stars get their own big dramatic scene, with Travis’ the most moving as the protective mother and sometimes put-upon wife. Dunaway is also good as the boozy and brassy Meg, but veers dangerously close to “Mommie Dearest” territory in her breakdown scene.
Tripping up what is otherwise a story of girl power is a scene in which the four women convene in the bathroom at a time of crisis and begin regaling each other with stories concerning Pryce’s sexual prowess. It’s a contrived moment that belittles the characters.
In general, Alan Caso’s deft camera work and John Debney’s rousing score make for a slick and entertaining production.