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The Second Civil War (1997)

This made for cable political satire features a cast that I couldn’t ignore and overall I’m glad I didn’t. While I never laughed out loud the film sure caused me to smile throughout with it’s zany take on immigration and the laws governing it.

The story mainly unfolds through the eyes of the news media where Dan Hedaya oversees the story with his cast of newshounds. James Earl Jones is one of our calming anchors with Joanna Cassidy while Denis Leary and Elizabeth Pena are our field reporters.

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The state of Idaho which is governed by Beau Bridges who in turn is navigated by Kevin Dunn is closing it’s borders. No more immigrants are to be admitted which prompts the white house to take action. President Phil Hartman calls in his number one political facilitator James Coburn to see him through this very public stand off. Director Joe Dante adds some of his stock company to the President’s staff with Kevin McCarthy and William Schallert for good measure.

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Hartman and his brain trust are more worried about his decisions interfering with a big Susan Lucci announcement on the daily soap All My Children and how it may effect his popularity in the polls with housewives then he is about the actual problem at hand. Whereas his opponent Mr. Bridges is shutting down the borders while at the same time pining away for his lover who happens to be from south of the Rio Grande. To complicate matters it’s news lady Pena who has been assigned to the story by Hedaya.

“Governor, the White House just called.”

“Goddammit get out of here! This is important!”

This from Kevin Dunn as he strokes Bridges ego over his lost love.

Everything from The Alamo to The Statue of Liberty are taking hits as the rest of the country takes up arms and sides. The mayor of Los Angeles holds his own press conference and Hedaya needs a Spanish interpreter to translate.The country is coming unglued and even the news crew at Net News are taking sides. Joanna Cassidy is losing it on air and Ron Perlman is having a violent clash with other producers. The whole thing causes cameo performer Roger Corman to throw up his hands and point out he’s refusing to pay overtime. A great in joke from director Dante who did of course get his start in films with the frugal Corman.

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The military involvement has the Idaho National Guard with an aging Rance Howard guiding a tank on one side and an elderly blood and guts styled Patton(esque) Brian Keith ordered in by Hartman to tear down the Idaho blockades. When all hell breaks loose Leary and his camera man Dick Miller (another Dante favorite) charge in with a rousing “This one’s for the Duke!”

In the end most of the jokes are based on the irony of wanting to minimize immigrants in the state of Idaho when in actuality many of the films characters and parts are played by just that, immigrants. Like a quartet of speech writers for Hartman. Asian, Irish, Spanish and Russian. The four are asked to come up with a Eisenhower type quote for a presidential speech.

second civil

My first reason for picking this title up was that I collect all films with James Coburn. He’s good here with a great line about a political opponent. “He’d be as confused as a goat on astro turf.” I’ll have to use that one sometime.

Overall a good political satire that was produced by Barry Levinson who also directed the political Wag the Dog around this same time. While it fades down the stretch it’s still worth a look for an energetic cast of pros.

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