The idea of deconstructing Donald Trump surely sounded more enticing when “The Apprentice” looked like a megahit, as opposed to another peg in NBC’s Might See lineup. Although a moderately entertaining account of Trump’s rise to moguldom and marital shenanigans, pic is mainly a recitation of events. It fails to get under that famous mop and expose what makes Trump tick — perhaps because there’s limited evidence of depth beyond the bluster. Fun in a campy way, the telefilm has its moments, but it won’t inspire many to say, “You’re TiVo-ed!”
Justin Louis (hard to recognize from NBC’s “Hidden Hills”) captures the swagger and tenor of Trump’s voice, but Keith Curran’s script — derived from two Trump tomes by Gwenda Blair — doesn’t penetrate the cartoonish surface that has made “The Donald” the personification of self-promotion.
The only real insight, in fact, is that the young Trump suffered from what might be called “daddy issues” in his quest to shake up New York real estate, frequently turning to his well-established father (Ron McLarty) to bail him out. At the same time, Trump overshadows his underachieving older brother (Chris Potter, in the film’s strongest perf), who comes to a tragic end.
By contrast, Trump’s relationship with wife Ivana (Katheryn Winnick, using an accent that makes you wonder when she’ll urge Boris to kill moose and squirrel) unfolds like a series of postcards, with about as much context. The only revealing sequences come when the couple negotiates a prenuptial agreement as a kind of foreplay, before eventually breaking up via a series of exchanges in Liz Smith’s column.
Similarly, Jennifer Baxter’s late-arriving Marla Maples is presented as the quintessential airhead, as director John David Coles relies on a montage of tabloid headlines to fill in narrative gaps. Given that the movie features the usual mix of “time compression, composite and representative characters,” one would think they could have concocted something more interesting.
What’s lacking amid all this is a guiding POV to frame the story, with Saul Rubinek’s wily business associate coming closest without being sufficiently fleshed out to provide the necessary ballast. And despite Trump’s irritating proclamation that he is “American royalty,” the movie proves generally sympathetic toward him, even when chronicling his feud with then-New York Mayor Ed Koch (Richard Portnow) and his willingness to stretch the truth (OK, lie) to hype various projects.
What might initially have appeared like an attempt to embarrass a rival network’s star proves little more than a sweeps stunt leveraging Trump’s notoriety, without delivering any greater illumination of his gift for B.S. than one of “The Apprentice’s” weekly boardroom sessions.
As a biography of a guy convinced there’s no such thing as bad publicity, there’s nothing here that Trump wouldn’t have authorized, notarized and no doubt hyperbolized.