From its first moments, the wish-fulfillment political-campaign comedy Knife Fight serves as an accidental demonstration of the value of staying on message. After introducing us to Rob Lowe as ace political fixer Paul and Jamie Chung as an assistant made queasy by the pragmatic cynicism her job demands, the film catches us up on the unrelated goings-on in races on two coasts, cut together so haphazardly we could be watching the "previously on . . ." intro of some serialized drama. Throughout, Knife Fight feels like TV, like a half-season of some promising cable show stuffed into a 98-minute film that never really builds or surprises, except in its haphazard "Wait, now there's a third race to follow, too?" structure. That's too bad, as the script — by director Bill Guttentag — is distinguished by more than its share of "the way things oughta be": Here are candidates who won't stand for being swift-boated, political wives who demand that their husbands' mistresses not be shamed by the campaign, and consultants who continually pause to worry about the ethics of their calling despite the film's insistence that they're amoral street fighters. (Paul is purported to be the sharkiest of sharks, but rosy-cheeked Lowe plays him as an idealistic pragmatist.) Highlights include a series of dead-on fake political ads, each just a touch more mad than real ones, and Lowe's gently percolating chemistry with Julie Bowen, as the impossibly named TV reporter Peaches O'Dell. But that romance, like the too-many campaign plots, grinds on rather than pays off.
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