"Lightweight" may be the last adjective one would use to describe Arnold Schwarzenegger, physically anyway, but See Arnold Run, a new cable movie about the muscle-bound social climber, is a lightweight pure and simple. Especially simple. It's as substantial as a snowflake, though hardly as fascinating.
The film was made by Paramount for the Arts & Entertainment Network -- seemingly on a low budget and brief shooting schedule. This thing is less a movie than an Etch-a-Sketch doodle, a sloppy pop biography of the bodybuilder, movie star, and now California governor that largely ignores the "movie star" part and Arnold's unlikely reign as a box-office powerhouse.
Perhaps dressing up an actor to look like the Terminator, in scenes dramatizing the making of that movie, would require more legal work than the producers could afford, what with copyrights being the big cans of worms that they are. In any case, the film -- which premiered on A&E January 30th and will replay February 2nd, 3rd, and 6th -- gives us Arnold in his bodybuilding phase and his political spree, and we all know he was a movie star anyway.
If Arnold's "reign as a box-office powerhouse" was "unlikely," so was just about everything else the hulky-bulky Austrian-born optimist did. If there is a point to his story as the movie tells it, it's that nothing is really unlikely for anybody who is determined enough about making it happen. At least -- in America.
The screenplay cuts back and forth between parallel watershed moments in Arnold's life -- his attempt to win the title of Mr. Olympia for a fourth time in 1974 and his battle to become governor of California nearly 30 years later. Both feats were formidable; however silly-looking a "sport" bodybuilding is, winning the Olympia title four times in a row was unheard of.
Arnold's bid to become governor did not come about in the normal way. In California, the freak-show state, few things come about in the normal way. Arnold was one of a field of candidates seeking the office when the electorate demanded a chance to recall its governor, dull Gray Davis. The movie streamlines the election and reduces the competitors to two: Arnold vs. flinty feminist Arianna Huffington.
In addition to those two main story lines, both of which involve Arnold defying skeptics in triumph, there's a third -- hazy and subsidiary (and in black-and-white) in which Arnold is a wee little boy trying to defeat another kid in some sort of competition, with Arnold's imperious father standing by. In their superficial way, the makers of See Arnold Run ask "What made Arnold run?" and answer with that corny standby, "His daddy didn't love him."
See Arnold Run breaks with one old movie tradition but not very sensibly. It used to be that when real people were portrayed on the screen, they were played by actors who looked much better and more glamorous. That's flip-flopped here. The real Arnold certainly outshines Jurgen Prochnow, the grim and scary creature chosen to play him in this film. Prochnow does avoid doing another Arnold impersonation, but his attempts to seem playful are grisly.
Similarly, Mariel Hemingway, though she certainly has looked beautiful on the screen, seems a frowsy substitute for Maria Shriver, Arnold's press-wise wife and ambassador to the Kennedy clan. "Politics is hell -- worse than hell," she warns Arnold when he thinks about running. "I know. I am the media!" Do you think she really said that? (Shriver did have a solid career in network news.)
We follow Arnold through his various gaffes and crises as a campaigner. He puts down old suspicions about his father, Gustav, being a Nazi and tries to dismiss stories about his womanizing youth on the bodybuilding circuit. In one of innumerable flashbacks, a sexy groupie decorates Arnold's chest with chocolate syrup and then licks it off. Oh, the decadence!
The guy playing the young, partying Arnold, Roland Kickinger, is more handsome than Arnold at any age and actually projects real magnetism, unlike Prochnow and his burnt-toast persona. Some of the flashbacks are perky, but too much of the movie's running time is given over to scenes of tedious strategizing sessions by Arnold's political advisers. Few things in life are more boring than watching a meeting.
Some day there might be a smart, savvy political movie made about Arnold and his insistence on overachievement, but See Arnold Run is not it, and it's not awful enough to be fun either.