Lisa Schwarzbaum protests the lame marketing for a terrific movie

April 23, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

The ‘Election’ preview does a disservice to the movie

Had I not seen ”Election” before I saw the trailer for ”Election,” I never would have gone to see ”Election.” And that would have been a pity. It’s a great movie — a funny, mordant, twisted story about an eager-beaver overachiever running unopposed for high school student-council president, and a nice, bland history teacher who just can’t bear the idea that little Miss Goody Two-Shoes will win. So he recruits a candidate to run against her. And comic disaster follows.

Oh, but it’s delicious: The teacher — played by Matthew Broderick with winning blobbiness — teaches civics, but he sneaks and cheats to thwart the democratic process; the student — played by Reese Witherspoon with gleeful prissiness — is a pill, but she’s an unimpeachable hard worker. Nobody is all good or all bad.

The trailer, though, is TERRIBLE. It tells you nothing about the plot, or the mood of the film; it’s as if the studio is afraid to let on how fascinatingly subversive ”Election” is. The marketing department just wants you to think it’s…cute. I watched the promo with an audience before a screening of ”Go,” and the response was one of audible dismissal.

This is a case of bad trailers happening to good movies. What’s surprising is that the tragedy doesn’t happen more often. Usually, a movie-wise audience can judge an upcoming film pretty reliably from its promotional clip: A long string of dramatic action sequences topped by pounding music may mean the story doesn’t add up — and we’re seeing the best scenes in advance. An inventive or truly funny trailer (I’m happy to sit through an hour of ”Austin Powers” 2 promos) is a good indicator of an inventive or truly funny finished product. A minute of drama that grabs your attention in a commercial bodes well for 100 minutes of that same drama.

Like ”Rushmore” and ”The Truman Show,” ”Election” is hip and stylistically sophisticated. Just because it’s too complicated for easy PR doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share it with the rest of the class.

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