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'DC 9/11' is too pro-Bush, and too late

If "DC 9/11: Time of Crisis" could ever be cut down to a bite-size portion, it would make the best presidential reelection ad ever conceived, one that would force every Democratic challenger to abandon the chase for the White House.

Most Americans, of all political stripes, would agree that in the frantic days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, George Bush's steely leadership and deft tone helped stabilize a nation knocked out of its equilibrium and stripped of its comfortable preconceptions. This Showtime "docudrama" promises to give viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the administration's machinations and deliberations in the days right after 9/11. Instead, it proves a slick piece of propaganda that deifies the president and portrays the wheels of government as turning with well-oiled precision in the face of the gravest crisis to confront the country in a generation.

Whether visiting the injured, ordering an ultimatum to the Taliban, perusing Psalm 23, or affirming American values in a misty-eyed conversation with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Bush (Timothy Bottoms) is unbowed, unflappable, and unwavering. He is, to put it in Hollywood terms, part John Wayne and part Gary Cooper, with a little Jimmy Stewart tossed in for good measure.

Based on interviews with many top White House players (including Bush himself) and interspersing real footage with filmed re-creations, "DC 9/11" is crisply paced and entertaining enough. Some of the actors, including Bottoms, bear a striking resemblance to their characters. John Cunningham, for example, does a particularly good job capturing the aggressive energy of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. (But George Takei as Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta? He'll always be Sulu from "Star Trek.")

One also can't discount the emotional power of some of the indelible moments from those days. Even in a film this worshipful, the depiction of Bush's first trip to visit the survivors and rescuers at ground zero in New York will bring a lump to your throat.

But the biggest problem facing "DC 9/11" is that the effort feels stale. Anyone even vaguely interested in the subject has had plenty of opportunity to learn from a number of media sources how the Bush administration formulated a new foreign policy out of the ashes of the World Trade Center. And now that we're struggling with the bloody and difficult reconstruction of Iraq, battling a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, and searching for allies to help shoulder the burden of our new geopolitics, a shiny post-mortem of the days following Sept. 11 feels dated and darn near irrelevant.

One of the more provocative moments in "DC 9/11" occurs in a meeting when administration hawks Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney joust with Secretary of State Colin Powell (portrayed here as a squishy multilateralist) over the threat posed to US security by Saddam Hussein. In light of all that's happened since the towers fell in New York, maybe that could have been the opening scene of a much more interesting film.

DC 9/11: Time of Crisis

Directed by: Brian Trenchard-Smith

On: Showtime

Time: Tomorrow at 8 p.m.

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