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'Citizen Ruth'

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 10, 1997

The best thing about this movie is Laura Dernís authentic performance as the zoned out, vapor-inhaling pawn caught in a political battle between right-to-lifers and abortion-rights activists. But the film degenerates into an overly simplistic satire -- with moon-worshiping, Guatemala-visiting, lesbian aborters on one side, and fetally obsessive, meat-eating, gun-toting Jesus worshipers on the other.

Pregnant for the umpteenth time, addicted glue and chemical sniffer Ruth Stoops (Dern) is sentenced to jail for endangering the life of her fetus. But when the judge tells her heíll forgo the punishment if she has an abortion, the issue is politicized by a group of religious pro-life activists, led by Norm and Gail Stoney (Kurtwood Smith and Mary Kay Place), who take in Ruth, treat her well, and groom her as a poster Mom for their cause.

But a rival group, led by Diane Sieglar (Swoosie Kurtz) and her assistant Rachel (Kelly Preston), spirits her into their lair, to protect her right to have an abortion. Torn between two groups who are obviously just using her for their political ends, the simplistic, fume-recovering Ruth becomes receptive to the adversariesí straight-out money offers.

Well before this point, however, first-time director Alexander Payne (who wrote the script with Jim Taylor) has used up all his comic shock tactics. At first, itís amusing to watch these abortion-warfare stereotypes held up for ridicule, but it becomes tiresome to spend a whole movie with such one-dimensional abstractions. Worse, after raising one of the most morally divisive questions of this century, the movie takes a cop-out ending, which brings things to a whimpering, disappointing denouement.

Contains graphic language and extensive abuse of chemicals.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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