Every now and then an ostensible indulgence in exploitation somehow transcends the cynicism that brought it to life. Such is the case with this dramatization of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s political rise (following VH1’s idiotic, slapdash “popumentary”), which cleverly juxtaposes California’s gubernatorial recall campaign with his pursuit of the Mr. Olympia title 30 years earlier. If not necessarily brimming with insight into the candidate or, as Arnold would say, fantaaastic, it’s nevertheless an entertaining exercise and by no means a hatchet job.
Jurgen Prochnow doesn’t much resemble Schwarzenegger, but he has a good grasp of his devil-may-care persona and schoolyard sense of humor, as does Roland Kickinger (from the Howard Stern-produced “Son of the Beach”) as the more youthful Arnold.
Both performances are cartoonish to a degree, but they also convey the never-say-die attitude that has propelled Schwarzenegger to victory in pretty much every endeavor he has tackled. Moreover, Mariel Hemingway’s characterization of Maria Shriver nicely captures the role she is reported to have played as a key advisor, including her observation that the womanizing stories about her husband recycled just before the election were “puke politics.”
Much of Matt Dorff’s script uses the public record, such as recreating TV interviews, in addition to delving behind the scenes of Schwarzenegger’s gubernatorial campaign. Director JB Rodgers brings a whimsical touch to it all, counting down both to the recall vote and Mr. Olympia competition as the narrative oscillates between them.
The least successful element relies on what amounts to pop psychology, recreating gauzy scenes from Schwarzenegger’s childhood — a sort of poor man’s “Spellbound” — in a lame attempt to explain what motivates him.
The pic exhibits more heft in displaying how Schwarzenegger attacked politics with the same determination and gusto he brought to acting or bodybuilding, memorizing his lines — only here about education policy — and marketing his candidacy as deftly as he did his movies.
In that respect, “See Arnold Run” at times does a better job zeroing in on how Schwarzenegger shrewdly landed his latest role than the news outlets that saw only a muscle-bound actor and were inclined to dismiss him.
Beyond the central performances, casting proves a bit uneven. While Nora Dunn, for example, adds a bit of sparkle in her cameo as Arianna Huffington, Kristen Shaw proves there’s at least one person out there who hasn’t mastered a Barbara Walters impersonation.
All told, though, the movie proves surprisingly substantial, especially from a network whose image is defined by reality shows such as “Growing Up Gotti” and “Dog the Bounty Hunter.” Then again, perhaps it’s appropriate “See Arnold Run” should mirror attributes of Schwarzenegger himself — a larger-than-life product whose core value is too easily underestimated.