Talk about going against the grain: while all in Washington are scrambling to distance themselves from Jack Abramoff, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher leapt to his defense Tuesday, telling AP: "They're portraying Jack as a monster. I see him more as a good person who's done bad things and has to be punished for doing bad things."
I get it: hate the sin -- and the mail fraud, the tax evasion, the bribery, and the federal conspiracy -- but love the sinner.
Rohrabacher tells the Los Angeles Times that he and Abramoff are longtime friends who socialized over the years with their families and dined together frequently. Abramoff hosted a baby shower for Rohrabacher and his wife when they had triplets in 2004, and the congressman let Abramoff use his name as a personal reference when the lobbyist applied for a $60 million loan to purchase a fleet of floating casinos in Florida.
"The last thing I'm going to do is kick a friend when he's down," said Rohrabacher. "I'm not excusing anything he did that was wrong or illegal. It's just a sad commentary on democracy that when someone falls, there's this feeding frenzy and people are abandoned by those they thought were their friends."
I'm not sure what democracy has to do with it, but it's hard to find fault with a guy standing by a friend -- and fellow screenwriter. That's right, besides sharing a conservative bent, the two pals are also members of the Brotherhood of the Would-Be Hollywood Players.
You may remember that Rohrabacher made headlines a few months back when it was revealed that he had opened doors in Washington for Joseph Medawar, a small-time Hollywood producer pitching a TV series about the Department of Homeland Security, after Medawar had paid $23,000 to option Baja, a 30-year old script the congressman had written.
Medawar has been charged with swindling dozens of investors by selling $5.5 million in stock in his production company (the one that was to produce the Homeland Security project) and spending the money on himself. While watchdog groups have called for an investigation into Rohrabacher's actions, the congressman/screenwriter has defended himself -- and his literary output.
"There was no quid pro quo," insisted Rohrabacher, saying that Medawar had wanted to "make at least one feature film a year that was pro-American. He remembered Baja and said that would be a good one for us to do. And I said, 'Fine. I have put a lot of work into that.'"
Just how much work became clear when the LA Times got a look at Baja, which had been knocking around Hollywood so long that, over time, its protagonist has gone from a conservative twentysomething Vietnam vet to a conservative twentysomething Gulf War vet.
As described by the Times, Baja is a standard-issue buddy movie featuring "high-octane action", "a little romance", and Rohrabacher's "own brand of humor", exemplified by this exchange between the two main characters, Bernie "Paz" Shulman and Roger Wallace:
Roger: 'Paz'? What kind of name is that?
Paz: It means something. It means 'peace' in Spanish. What's your name?
Roger: Roger. Roger Wallace. It means, I am Roger Wallace.'
One early fan of the script was Ronald Reagan, whose 1976 campaign Rohrabacher had worked on. After running into the future president at a party in 1978, Rohrabacher sent him a copy of Baja -- and soon received a handwritten note from Reagan, who felt the script had an "excellent locale for filming purposes plus action & suspense" but advised Rohrabacher to "clean up the language -- a few h--l's & d--n's yes but I'd drop all the words ending in '-itch, --it or -uck.'".
As for Abramoff, his short-lived stint as an ink-stained Hollywood wretch reached its high-water mark when he shared story credit on 1989's Red Scorpion -- an action thriller he also produced. The film starred Dolph Lundgren as a Soviet assassin who is sent to kill an African anti-Communist rebel leader but ends up switching sides and obliterating his Commie commanders ("He's a human killing machine," trumpeted ads for the Rambo-wannabe flick. "Taught to stalk. Trained to kill. Programmed to destroy. He's played by their rules... Until now.")
"The movie's reflective moments belong to Mr. Lundgren's sweaty chest," wrote New York Times film critic Stephen Holden at the time of Red Scorpion's release. And looking back on the film this April, Frank Rich wrote that it features "violence, bloodied beefcake... and crucifixion imagery anticipating The Passion of the Christ."
For the definitive takedown of Abramoff's cinematic oeuvre check out this terrific Washington Postpiece by Peter Carlson. I especially loved his comparison of the writing in Abramoff's movies and that found in the Abramoff e-mails uncovered by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs:
Those now-infamous e-mails reveal Abramoff's hitherto undiscovered talent for writing brilliant lowlife dialogue. The best of the e-mails are reminiscent of the poetically raunchy dialogue in "Glengarry Glen Ross," David Mamet's Pulitzer Prize-winning play about sleazy real estate salesmen:
"Can you smell money?!?!?!" Abramoff asked in one e-mail.
"You iz da man! Do you hear me?! You da man!!" he wrote in another. "How much $$ coming tomorrow? Did we get some more $$ in?"
"That [expletive] idiot put my name on an e-mail list!" he wrote in a third. "What a [expletive] moron! He may have blown our cover! Dammit. We are moving forward anyway and taking their [expletive] money."
Ironically, Abramoff's e-mails contain better dialogue than Abramoff's movies. The man's a natural.
Agreed -- but it's not like Red Scorpion is without its conversational gems. Take this exchange between Lundgren's Lt. Nikolai and Ferguson, an irascible American journalist played by M. Emmett Walsh:
Ferguson: Man, what I'd give for a bacon-cheeseburger right now. Wash it down with an icecold glass of beer. Fuckin' A.
Lt. Nikolai: Do the Americans all swear so much as you do?
Ferguson: As a matter of fact, in America, an American can swear whenever, wherever, however much he or she fuckin' well pleases! It's a little something we call freedom of speech, which I'm sure you Russians aren't real familiar with!
Lt. Nikolai: We are free to swear.
Ferguson: Well yippee-dee-fuck! Guess I've got you bastards figured out totally wrong after all! I'll take the first watch. Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!
Lt. Nikolai: Noisy little fuck.
In a foreshadowing of what lay ahead for him in Washington, Abramoff's Hollywood foray was filled with intrigue, controversy, political fireworks, and shady financial deals -- including claims that Red Scorpion was partly bankrolled by South Africa's apartheid government. Because of these claims -- and because the film was shot in South African-controlled Namibia -- when it was released, Abramoff's film was placed on a UN list for having violated the organization's cultural boycott of South Africa's white supremacist government.
Fervent anti-Communism was another major bond between Rohrabacher and Abramoff. Fresh off a 4-year stint as chairman of the College Republicans, Abramoff helped organize a convention of anti-communist rebel leaders from all over the globe. Held in June 1985 in Jamba, Angola (the jungle headquarters of Jonas Savimbi's UNITA group), the rebel convention, dubbed the Democratic International, brought together representatives of the Soviet-fighting Afghan mujahedin, the Nicaraguan Contras, Laotian rebels, and Savimbi's forces. According to James Verini in Salon: "For several days they commiserated and compared notes, huddling together in thatched huts and signing an anti-Soviet pact." A letter of support from Reagan was read, and framed copies of the Declaration of Independence were handed out.
Hmmm... Afghan, Nicaraguan, Laotian, and African rebels all gathered together in the jungle for several days of anti-communist fellowship? You can't tell me that hijinx didn't ensue! I smell a gang comedy blockbuster here! A geo-political Animal House.
You cast Adam Sandler as a mujahedin, George Lopez as a Contra, Chris Rock as Savimbi, and Vince Vaughn as Abramoff. It can't miss.
And since it seems certain that Abramoff is going to have plenty of downtime, he should take a crack at the screenplay. Maybe his old pal Rep. Rohrabacher can swing by during visiting hours and they can knock out a first draft together.
Abramoff + Rohrabacher + Anti-Communist Comedy = Box Office Gold.