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Kevin Spacey screens Abramoff flick for Washington media crowd

By The Reliable Source

Chris Matthews and Kevin Spacey, 2010. (Kris Connor/Getty Images)

Opening your political Washington movie in front of a media-political Washington audience? Pretty much the definition of "tough crowd." That was the room that "Casino Jack" faced Wednesday at an E Street Cinema screening of the Kevin Spacey-as-Jack Abramoff flick, sponsored by the Creative Coalition, with faces like Andrea Mitchell, Jane Harman and Ben Bradlee in the crowd.

You didn't have to be a Pulitzer-winning expert on the Byzantine schemes of the disgraced former superlobbyist to wince at the Hollywood embroidery and hyperbole. Rep. Bob Ney getting handcuffed in the halls of Congress? Doesn't work that way. Abramoff's now-defunct Signatures declared "the best restaurant in town"? Don't recall that. They even botched the cliched insult: It's not "Washington is Hollywood with ugly faces," it's "Washington is Hollywood for ugly people"!

Possibly the room's favorite groaner: The rooftop happy hour where a journalist taunts Abramoff for his links to Mariana Islands sweatshops and gets slugged in the face by another lobbyist. Next line: "You just hit a hemophiliac reporter for The Washington Post!" (We've asked around. Didn't happen. Sorry.)

There was just too much, really, and moderator Chris Matthews seemed too weary to take it all on in the post-screening Q&A, so he let Spacey off the hook with mild hazing.

"How'd ya get permission to shoot on the Capitol lawn?" the MSNBC anchor asked. "That's not allowed. HAH!"

"I think we call it CGI," the star responded dryly. "We shot it all in Toronto."

The movie was meant to "shed a light on a process that is a culture," said Spacey. "When we look at the kind of money that needs to be raised for campaigns ... maybe we can make some points about the hypocrisy" and inspire some change.

Well, what kind? Spacey suggested that campaign reform could begin by cutting back on costly ads. The networks, he said, could "decide they could serve the public" by vetting all campaign ads for accuracy, and then "run them for free."

Huh. "You've gotten beyond me," growled Matthews. "I don't know how to do that. Because of the First Amendment."

The mood was a little flat, as it's reportedly been at many recent "Casino Jack" unveilings: The director, George Hickenlooper, died suddenly two weeks ago in Denver at age 47. Spacey said he most regretted that Hickenlooper missed screening the movie for a D.C. audience. "He was finally being recognized as a great filmmaker."

A man in the audience who said he was a friend of Abramoff's applauded Spacey's nuanced portrayal. Abramoff wasn't just a heavy, "he was dorky," the friend said. "He was a dorky guy. I thought you did a fantastic job."

By The Reliable Source  | November 12, 2010; 1:05 AM ET
Categories:  Politics  
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