Torn-from-the-headlines political scandals are frequently milked for multiplex fodder, but it's rare that they such events are spun into something as blatantly baiting as Doug Liman's rally cry about the Valerie Plame affair. Like its protagonist, the movie conceals its true identity: Reading the CIA riot act to an informer in Kuala Lumpur, this version of Plame (Watts) establishes both her Agency MVP authority and the tone for what seems to be a Bourne-ish globe-trotting thriller. (Not surprising, given Liman directed that franchise's first installment.) As she handles foreign operatives and Beltway know-it-alls in between kissing the kids goodbye, "Val" comes off as another career woman balancing a hectic schedule, a soccer mom who just happens to be a spy. You wouldn't even know the character was a famous Republican bte noire until her husband (Penn) starts glad-handing folks---"Hi, Joe Wilson"---and talk turns to yellowcake in Niger.
For its first half, Fair Game balances shaky-cam espionage and a subversive cheekiness (viva the Gorillaz-scored credits sequence!) with wit and urgency. Then Plame's cover gets blown, and so does the film's; suddenly, the clunky melodrama that had been lurking in the shadows starts hogging the spotlight. The couple's rote domestic spats play for our sympathy, montages of baying media hounds inflame our ire, and a Scooter Libby avatar gives Snidely Whiplash a run for his money. Lest we missed the 22-point-font messages, the movie literally ends with waving flags and a lecture. Wilson and Plame's punishment for speaking out was indeed a repugnant abuse of power. To reduce their story to a handwringer for housewives that's laden with protest-sign sloganeering seems, frankly, unfair.
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