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‘True Colors’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 15, 1991

"True Colors" is a movie in a hurry, a movie on the go, an overstuffed drama about bent ethics, a globe-trotting wake-up call for us money pigs. There is only negligible development of its protagonists, a pair of law school graduates who bring contrasting values to their Washington careers. A Potomac fever polemic, this emotionally hollow tale would restore idealism to a generation perverted by Reaganomics.

Director Herbert Ross was doubtless drawn to the project not only because he is a Kennedy-style liberal, but because it reminded him of the enjoyable dynamics of his "The Turning Point." But given its high-mindedness, one wonders what was in it for producer Laurence Mark and writer Kevin Wade, who developed the script after hatching that capitalistic golden egg called "Working Girl." Social responsibility? Or buckets of money, '80s style?

"True Colors," with James Spader and John Cusack, is the antithesis of "Working Girl" but for one factor. It's hooked into the morality in vogue -- in this case, deconstructivist postmodernist neo-guilt. Fourteen months into the '90s, we are already feeling superior to those greedy whores of the '80s. Look at the difference between Spader's Tim Garrity and the Working Girl, who through duplicity, sexual allure and blue-collar spunk climbed the corporate ladder.

Tim is from a fine old American family, a self-assured blueblood who is engaged to Diana (Imogen Stubbs), the daughter of a powerful senator. His heritage, aside from a wealth of self-assurance, is dedication to the public welfare and a belief in justice. He is the WASP who hallows, and therefore can save, America's institutions.

Not so Cusack's Peter Burton. While attending the University of Virginia, Tim develops a close relationship with Peter, his working-class roommate, who has Anglicized his name to hide his ethnicity. Peter is the movie's Working Boy, an antiheroic casualty not only of poor breeding and genetic inferiority but of the corrupt societal influences that prevailed in the '80s. Propelled by ruthlessness and self-interest, he is portrayed not as a laissez-faire Cinderfella, but as an amoral termite gnawing away at America's moral fiber.

The movie follows the boys' friendship for nearly a decade. A naive Brahmin, Tim remains slavishly faithful to the manipulative Peter, even when his unscrupulous friend beds his fiancee. Never mind that Diana is about as likely to be at the business end of a love triangle as Bella Abzug.

Diana wants a husband who can keep her traveling in the social circles to which she has become accustomed. So when Tim eschews a political career to work for the Justice Department, she abandons him for the ambitious Peter. During a winter vacation in Montana, the two men fight it out like a couple of mountain rams on skis. Peter is gravely injured and Tim nobly bows out, agreeing to be the best man at his wedding to Diana.

Diana happily assumes the role of a Washington wife till Peter blackmails her father (Richard Widmark) into supporting his bid for a House seat. Tim suddenly finds himself back in the picture. But let's not spoil it by going any further.

"True Colors" rushes by at a hectic pace, never allowing the story to gain momentum. Despite good performances from the two leads, the film has the feel of a cautionary stampede. While it aspires to lofty heights, it never really goes much beyond the rules of behavior prescribed by the Boy Scout Handbook.

"True Colors" is rated R for sensuality.

Copyright The Washington Post

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