Jimmy Crack Con, Many Do Care

Next year in Jerusalem?

Don't count on it, Jimmy!

"Jimmy Carter: Man From Pains" — oops, how did the "l" get deleted from that word? — has had a "shove and be shoved" relationship with Israel and its supporters since his presidency played out in 1976. Kissed on the cheek by Prime Minister Menachem Begin at the Camp David accords, lately, he's been giving the kiss-off to the land — for him — of sour milk and hellish honey.

In "Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains," his plain speaking is clear: He waffles in that syrupy drawl enough to have a breakfast named after him. His purposely provocative book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid is more than part and parcel of this documentary — it is the be-all of the book tour bio.

Opening this Friday, the film is directed by the acclaimed Jonathan Demme.

Carter's demimonde these days is devoted to touring on behalf of his book and lecturing, and the one he gave at Brandeis University — where his "refusal" to debate critic Alan Dershowitz on the book initially earned him a "no thanks, our lecture schedule is full" — fulminates on screen with the quiet passion this eerily casual ex-president emotes.

For a man who once professed to having "lust in his heart" — and then lost himself in the presidency — Carter has a cart full of honors for his post-presidential proctoring of foreign elections and involvement in Habitat for Humanity. Called by some the most successful ex-president, this hail to the chief refers to his current humanitarian exploits, not the hell he made in the White House.

For the chief executive who 30 years ago was unable to handle runaway inflation, this contemporary conflation of history and heartlessness onscreen is particularly disturbing. There is a bothersome born-again arrogance unsubstantiated by Carter's achievements, recalling the same hubris that hobbled his administration, an inertia-filled, indescribably inept one term in office, about which a movie-of-the-weak could have been made.

His onscreen chatter now about how his negotiating skills got the hostages out of Iran nearly 30 years ago holds truth hostage; it was widely acknowledged at the time it was Iran's fear of infuriating incoming President Reagan — rather than Jimmy cracking corn — that led to their release.

Waiter, reality check, please!

Demme's demitasse is half-empty, a splendidly sugary salute of saccharine substance, toasting a man without recognizing the burned side. Demme's bookmobile of a biography: It's not just Carter as talking head, but talking headache.

There is nothing revealing here, no something wild; "stop making nonsense!" one feels compelled to shout back at the screen after Carter's explication and dumbed-down defense of his definition of apartheid in relation to Israel.

Indeed, there's not enough Billy Beer in the world to guzzle as anodyne to this anemically done film, in which the former peanut farmer proves how even goobers can become president in this nation.

Why do this film? Carter must have been inspired by a line from "A Chorus Line," paraphrased somewhat here: "If Al Gore can be a movie star, I can be a movie star."

Poetic justice, in the noble — if controversial — efforts of Hollywood, that Gore would come up the Oscar winner.



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