Hollywood goes political as election nears

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood is coming out this fall with a slew of political movies that hit all the hot-button topics as the tight U.S. presidential campaign nears its climax.

From religion to patriotism, gay rights and the presidency of George W. Bush, directors are wearing their political colors on their sleeves, using comedy, true stories and fantasy to send not-so-subtle messages to Americans preparing to choose between Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain on November 4.

“There is a sense now that these political films can really be successful, and they’re a genre aimed at one side of the political spectrum or the other,” said Robert Thompson, professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University.

Next week, controversial director Oliver Stone lands his satirical biopic “W.” that attempts to deconstruct Bush’s faith and marriage and the days leading up to the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Tom Ortenberg, executive producer of “W.”, said filmmakers were mirroring society, even if the release date of the Stone movie could be seen as politically charged.

“We don’t attempt to shape society, but we do reflect it,” Ortenberg said. “The movie is an examination of how a man like George W. Bush became president, and frankly how anyone can become president.”

Director David Zucker’s farce “An American Carol” and talk show host Bill Maher’s documentary that mocks faith “Religulous” opened on the same day in movie theaters last week.

Director Oliver Stone in a file photo. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Zucker, who made hit comedy movies “Airplane!” and the “Naked Gun” series, is a liberal-turned-conservative.

“An American Carol” is a fictional version of left-wing populist Michael Moore who in the movie comes around to loving America just like Scrooge learns to love Christmas.

“I don’t think (Moore) does hate America,” Zucker said. “I think we’re taking dramatic license.”

Moore himself released his latest documentary “Slacker Uprising” on the Internet for free last month. It was seen by 2 million viewers in the first three days.

Although the movie chronicles Moore’s speaking tours of college campuses during the 2004 election, its Internet release came with a plea to young people to vote and “save this country from four more years of Republican rule.”

With the debate over gay marriage heating up in California, trailers are running for the movie biopic “Milk.” Sean Penn plays California’s first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk, who was assassinated in 1978 when the gay rights movement was in its infancy.

After last year’s disappointing box office for a string of Iraq war themes movies, including “Rendition” and “In the Valley of Elah,” it remains to be seen whether Americans will lap up the political fare with the same enthusiasm they are showing for the tight 2008 race to the White House.

But Thompson said it was encouraging nevertheless to see so many political movies hitting the screens.

“It’s nice to know that you can go to your mall in your small city and see something other than helicopters blowing up and comic book people, or Julia Roberts falling in love.

“The fact that we’re making good, viable films about our civic experience I think is a good thing,” Thompson said.

Editing by Jill Serjeant