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Mad City

Reviewed by: Debbie James

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
16 to Adult
115 min.

Starring: John Travolta, Dustin Hoffman, Alan Alda, Mia Kershner, Blythe Danner, Robert Prosky, William Atherton / Director: Costa Gavras / Released by: Warner Bros.

“MAD CITY” is a film about a has-been L.A. TV reporter Max Brackett (Dustin Hoffman) and his up-and-coming assistant Laurie (Mia Kershner) who are at The Museum of Natural History to cover a so-so story when Sam Baily (John Travolta), a simple-minded, gentle man nervously enters the museum hoping to get his job back. He confronts his boss, Mrs. Banks (Blythe Danner) with a shotgun and a duffel bag full of dynamite. He fires the gun “to get her attention” and accidentally shoots a fellow guard. A group of school children also at the museum on a field trip hear the gunshot and start running. The children, by the virtue of “being there,” inadvertently end up as hostages. The injured guard, a black man, stumbles outside, and the media jumps in with a vengeance and claims, among other things, that the shooting was racially motivated.

At first glance, “MAD CITY” appears to be a typical movie about a hostage situation. As the plot unfolds, though, the viewer sees that the movie is really about media politics and ethics (or the lack of). Max Brackett takes advantage of the situation to further his own career. He’s hoping that this story is his big break back to the top. Poor Sam doesn’t seem to have a clue what to do now that this situation is out of control, so Max begins advising Sam on how to milk this incident for all it’s worth. Max manages to get Sam several live interviews (one with Larry King) in hopes of eliciting public sympathy for his plight. This unfolding event attracts the attention of a former associate, hot-shot NYC news anchor Kevin Hollander (Alan Alda), who wants to steal Max’s “glory.”

As far as the quality goes, the actors do an adequate job with the script, but it’s a little on the boring side. Therefore the recommend audience is older teens and adults. Younger teens, while capable of discussing the ethics portrayed, will probably prefer doing something more exciting, like washing the dishes.

Thankfully, the movie is void of sex or nudity, and the violence is brief, limited to only a few scenes. The language is minimal with God’s name misused 5 times, 12 obscenities (one use of the F-word), and an equal number of crude comments, the worst being a brief restroom scene where the Hoffman character uses off-color language, making sexual comments while urinating. On the positive side, Christian elements of churchgoing, love for family, prayer, and forgiveness are scattered throughout the movie and portrayed in a favorable light.

Year of Release—1997