November 16, 1990 at 05:00 AM EST

The Man Inside

Current Status
In Season
Peter Coyote, Jurgen Prochnow
Bobby Roth
We gave it a D

Occasionally, a movie comes along that is so jaw-droppingly implausible you wonder why someone on the set (the producer, one of the actors — hell, the key grip) didn’t pipe up and say, ”Wait a minute, no one is going to buy this.” In Bobby Roth’s leftist howler The Man Inside, Gunter Wallraff (Jürgen Prochnow), a crusading West German journalist known for his Woodward-and-Bernstein-style exposés, decides to infiltrate The Standard, a hugely popular German daily newspaper that is like a fascist version of the National Enquirer. The paper’s editor-in-chief is a vindictive sleazebag who is in cahoots with the country’s conservative elite; he thinks nothing of printing an antiunion story comprised entirely of character-smearing lies. Wallraff’s plan is to pose as an anonymous reporter, get hired by The Standard, and write a devastating indictment of the paper’s propagandistic machinery.

But hold on. Since Wallraff is already a famous muckraker (and since he’s despised by The Standard‘s management), how, exactly, is he going to get into the paper unnoticed? As the movie tells it, he simply slicks back his hair, shaves off his mustache…and voila! An impenetrable disguise! The Man Inside is based on a true story: There really is a Güunter Wallraff, and in Germany in the late ’70s he published Lead Story, a best-seller about Axel Springer’s right-wing publishing empire. But The Man Inside offers such a simplistic, comic-strip version of Wallraff’s saga that it ends up inspiring chortles of disbelief. The movie is at once drab and hectoring. The most enjoyable thing in it is also the most absurd: Dieter Laser’s over-the-top performance as The Standard‘s editor, who leers and insinuates like a graduate of the Peter Lorre Journalism Academy. D

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