Primary Colors is one of the weakest movies I've seen in a long time. The sole redeeming feature of this movie lies in the fact that it attempts to illustrate how corrupt our elected officials can be.
The movie is about the campaign of a southern Governor, Jack Stanton (John Travolta), to win the Democratic Presidential Primary. It should come as no surprise by now that the characters in the movie have a resemblance to Bill and Hillary Clinton and their 1992 Presidential campaign co-workers. In retrospect, it's easy to see how a movie about such a campaign can make for one of the most boring plots ever. I personally find hard to work up an interest in the real world for any election. It's even harder to do so for a fictitious campaign where unnecessary obstacles are thrown in to heighten suspense (particularly in the last half-hour). This is particularly distracting because the outcome here is far more certain than the 1996 U.S. Presidential elections.
Loose threads are aplenty. For example, relationships that appear key to the plot device are never explored. Stanton's previous misdemeanors turn up, cause a stir, and then simply go away (contrast this to the real world) when a new one turns up. Resolution of scandals, when it occurs, are quick and decisive. Supporting characters, such as Richard Jemmons (Billy Bob Thornton) and Daisy Green (Maura Tierney), are simply removed from the scene when they become inconvenient.
It has been said that Primary Colours illustrates the fact that the American public deserves the politicians it elects because of the banal nature of the public itself. But I say that the politicians today are so uninspiring and so devoid of character that what matters to the public is indeed the length of their hair or the amount of weight they've put on. Elections today are about choosing the lesser of two evils, and the only interesting issue is which candidate is the greater evil.
I think John Travolta is a great actor, but he portrays Stanton in too positive a manner (some say Clinton struck a deal with the Cult of Scientology (to which Travola belongs) to make this possible---now that would make for a good plot). Further, the attempt to mimic Clinton, even remotely, simply doesn't cut it. Emma Thomson as Susan Stanton turns in a solid performance, as does Kathy Bates playing the idealistic-but-deranged campaign "dustbuster" Libby Holden. The major disappointment is Henry Burton (Adrian Lester), one the focal characters in the movie, who comes off as wooden and incongruous.
It seems to me that the biggest mistake made here is that Primary Colors ends up being a sappy sentimental forgive-and-forget exercise in story-telling, whereas, by all accounts, the novel by Joe Klein (initially published under the anonymous pseudonym) was bitingly honest and far more candid. In fact, movies like Wag the Dog, for all their lack of realise, had a sarcastic and witty edge that struck a chord, and Primary Colors fails to accomplish this.
One can get a lot out of Primary Colors, but it's solely because of the subjects addressed and its take on American politics, and not because of the screenplay, the plot, or even the characters. Primary Colors is not harsh enough to effectively execute its own premise (that politics is a slimy business---as if we didn't already know that). Like Bill Clinton or Jack Stanton waffling around the issues, Primary Colors lacks the courage and the conviction necessary to make a statement. I recommend waiting for this to come out on video, if you need to see it at all.