You will remember Dan Butler from his role as "Bulldog," the testosterone addled sportscaster on Frasier. Also featured in dozens of films, TV shows and plays, he's one of those talents perpetually relegated to supporting actor status, or, as he describes himself, "Tonto."
He finally gets top billing as the star, co-writer and co-director of a hilarious and unsettling new doc/mockumentary with the year's most horrifying title, "Karl Rove, I Love You", a love letter delivered via a poison-tipped arrow. Both a twisted Roger and Me and a political Blair Witch Project currently making the film festival circuit, the movie deserves a big audience, especially anyone fascinated and befuddled by exactly how someone like Rove got so much power, and the pornographically seductive pull of extreme partisan politics.
It starts off innocently enough, as filmmaker Phil Leirness attempts a documentary about the "unknown supporting actor," beginning with Butler's appearance in Broadway's Twentieth Century with Alec Baldwin and Anne Heche. A typical backstory documentary ensues featuring interviews with colleagues, relatives and so on. Butler reaches an early nadir when, offered a new version of The Match Game, he says, "I'll be there with Rip Taylor and Jamie Farr and my career is officially over."
But one night in 2004, as a guessing game of "Celebrity" is played at his Hollywood house party, Butler doesn't know the identity of Karl Rove, described by one appalled guest as "the fucking Antichrist who is running this country -- you don't know who he is??? He's a Machiavellian genius." Butler decides to find out just who this "Rove" is, and just like the hapless ghost hunters in "Blair Witch" is pulled right down the hellhole, as filmmaker Leirness muses, "How was I to know this was the night my documentary would suddenly veer off in an unexpected direction?"
Learning about Rove, another supporting player, Butler becomes horrified and obsessed and decides to do a one-man show about him, a theatrical expose that will "tell the world who Rove really is" and perhaps sway the election in favor of John Kerry, inasmuch as a 99-seat Los Angeles theatre production could possibly sway anything. Butler travels to cities from Rove's past, and an especially funny scene occurs when he tries to find anyone outside Rove's high school who knows who Rove is. They don't appear to know who Butler is, either.
As Butler dives deeper into the brain of "Bush's brain," his acting coach cautions, "You can't play Rove if you're going to judge him -- you have to see the world through his eyes." So Butler submerges himself into the role of "Karl" as if he were playing Iago, a man who reveled in being a villain. Big mistake. Butler soon over identifies with Rove and adopts his persona and political views to the horror of his liberal friends, even rewriting his show as if it were co-authored by Sean Hannity. Then, the scariest thing of all happens: Butler falls hopelessly in love with Rove.
The most unsettling scene is at a dinner party where Butler channels Rove and answers his guests' questions with the sinister silkiness of Ari Fleischer, accusing them of "looking down from an ivory tower of cultural elitism." His script now includes right wing talking points. The movie makes many riveting twists and turns that you will hopefully get the opportunity to see for yourself.
Aside from its home movie verisimilitude that makes you wonder just what really happened and what was a setup, the movie is filled with moments that every political junkie can identify with. There's a reason why so many are so drawn into this partisan debate like it's a crack addiction or a car accident we can't tear our eyes from. There's a morbid fascination with the other side that makes us visit the same websites every morning or TiVo The O'Reilly Factor and not tell anyone. We want to see blood.
People like Rove and his cronies both horrify and fascinate, which is why they get any attention at all. Since the Dawn Of Modern Right Wing Time (aka the debut of Rush Limbaugh), the right has changed the tone of debate in America so completely that gob smacked liberals are only now beginning to catch up. The method: demonize your opponent so throroughy that he can't defend himself even if he has the winning argument. Say the same lies about the other side over and over again until people start to believe it. It's a tried and true Nazi tactic, and it works.
Butler and Leirness' movie captures this and many more issues, with the bonus of being really entertaining, unlike most political satires. And they make the smirking, self-assured face of Karl Rove as horrifying a sight as a teenager getting his achilles tendons sliced apart in Hostel.