America’s ever-elastic appetite for assimilating what was once offensive, rendering it both acceptable and profitable, gets a mostly deft satirical workout in “Live!” Playing like “Man Bites Dog” meets “Network” retooled for the current media climate, well-cast venture from Oscar-winning docu vet Bill Guttentag incorporates its lacerating commentary about reality TV and fame into a suspenseful fake-docu format. Pic’s major commercial obstacle is that reality TV — particularly in places like Holland — is already so far beyond the pale, even the Grim Reaper himself wouldn’t shock as a special guest.
Sleek, driven, cynical Katy (Eva Mendes), the recently hired programming prexy at TV network ABN, turns an offhand remark by a staffer — “People would watch Russian roulette if given a chance” — into the template for a live TV show.
Unlikely program’s genesis is captured by 29-year-old, Yale-trained documentary filmmaker Rex (David Krumholtz) and his cameraman, whose footage serves as aud’s eyes and ears. Device is so matter-of-fact that any groans of “Oh, no, not another video-diary-within-a-movie!” are nipped in the bud.
Network lawyer Don (Andre Braugher) is certain the FCC will never allow the show — which calls for six contestants to hold a loaded gun to their heads and pull the trigger — to air live on national TV. (“People say they can’t believe how bad what’s on TV is,” says one character, adding, “They should see what’s not on TV.”)
Net’s West Coast honcho thinks the show, to be called “Live!” (rhymes with “jive”), will be professional suicide. And the New York brass think pesky Congressmen will pound the network’s reputation. But Katy’s a pragmatic pro who neutralizes the obstacles with implacable flair.
At first only suicidal losers apply, but, after solving the problem of luring attractive people with every reason not to blow their own heads off, casting sessions yield a fab cross-section of contestants. Faux-compassionate segs, establishing each potential suicide’s colorful backstory, are little gems. “Entertainment Tonight”-style coverage of the countdown to broadcast manages to parody what would have seemed beyond parody.
“Shameless” and “venal” don’t begin to cover the rationalizations at every level of the process, but this frequently funny send-up creates a seemingly plausible arena in which hard-working media execs and show contestants can take moral bankruptcy all the way to the bank.