The prickly comedy of alienation, central to the latter New York film movement (Coming Apart, Last Summer, David Holzman's Diary). Brian De Palma starts out with frames within frames, Lyndon Johnson on the TV set chastising young Americans for their self-critique, after all they've never had it so good, right? Another provocation follows: Jonathan Warden, seeking a way out of the Army draft, walks into a bar and starts a brawl. Gerrit Graham and Robert De Niro, fellow dodgers and disenfranchised kooks, have a better idea and school him in the art of queer minstrelsy and blowhard mock-fascism; anti-establishment classes take place at the zoo, a public bathroom, on the edge of a building, Warden graduates by giving the Sieg-heil on the front steps of the draft office. A distinctively '68 vaudeville -- extended takes carved by jump cuts, an apartment adorned by a Malcolm X poster and a Hitchcock/Truffaut copy, a high-angled view of a bookstore with an unmistakable tinge of La Chinoise, the mysteries of the Kennedy assassination and computer dating. The Warren Commission Report to Graham is nothing but a "whitewash," he outlines the Zapruder film on the naked torso of his sleeping date and regales the camera with grainy blotches on photographs. A colleague is not impressed with conspiracy theories: "I saw Blowup. I know how this turns out." De Niro's "Peep Art" artist remains De Palma's favored scalawag, and is given the bravura central examination of cinema as interactive keyhole: A "beautiful, private moment" of Rutanya Alda undressing before the camera's (and the audience's) eye, a reconfiguration of Warhol's Beauty #2 with a punchline out of Sherlock, Jr. "The peeper and the peeped" makes up the aesthetic, with De Palma's radicalism and De Niro's rebelliousness laid out vehemently "somewhere in Vietnam"; Mr. President brings it all back home for Hi, Mom! With Megan McCormick, Tina Hirsch, and Allen Garfield.
--- Fernando F. Croce