Mel Gibson’s Ransom hero, Tom Mullen, can’t just sit home and let the FBI save his son. So he races away from his Manhattan apartment in a Jaguar — until he sees that a TV news van is tailing him. Mullen, a self-made millionaire who stars in his own airline commercials, knows how to handle the media. He stops, gets his tire iron, walks to the van, shatters the driver’s window, then takes the ignition key and lofts it into next week. The message is clear — and audiences are cheering it: The prying eyes of the press are a pain.
TV journalists aren’t repugnant enough to be big villains on screen, but they’re serving quite nicely as punching bags. Last summer’s Basquiat waded in the cynicism of the ’80s New York art scene but saved its full contempt for Christopher Walken’s shallow celebrity interviewer. In The Associate, Whoopi Goldberg, playing a Wall Street analyst, is hoping to make an impression at a banquet. What should she wear? Her friend knows the look she’s going for: ”Slutty yet intelligent — news anchor!” Greg Kinnear’s Dear God keeps punctuating the plot with a preening local TV reporter who may never make anchor — she’s faintly slutty and faintly intelligent. Even next month’s The Preacher’s Wife, Penny Marshall’s otherwise humane Christmas comedy, pauses to skewer a shrill TV news producer before returning to its angel-driven premise.
You’d think talking heads would bridle at being trotted out for target practice. But as in libel cases, truth is the best cinematic defense, and the truth is that one preview audience to go gaga for Gibson’s smash-and-grab tactic was the crowd last month at a press screening.