David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

Larry Beinhart’s “American Hero”

American HeroThis book review was originally published in the Baltimore City Paper on December 10, 1993.

Edgar Award-winning author Larry Beinhart’s latest novel, American Hero, accuses Bush and friends of some serious noodling with the international mindset, by scheming up the Persian Gulf War to guarantee reelection in 1992.

American Hero gives a fictional account of the Gulf War’s development, from a suggestion made by dying GOP strongman Lee Atwater to the development of the scheme by a big-shot movie director. The novel actually devotes as much time exposing the corruptions of Hollywood (a la Michael Tolkin and Robert Altman’s The Player) as it does postulating about strong-arm government security tactics. Through copious footnotes, Beinhart builds an impressive case that if Hollywood didn’t actually script the Gulf War, it was certainly a heavy influence on Bush and his cronies.

But no one is more guilty of kowtowing to the Hollywood establishment than Beinhart himself. He bundles the whole conspiracy element in the package of a cheap detective story that practically begs for an expensive screenplay and big-budget film adaptation. American Hero has everything your average Hollywood executive scumbag would kill for: a Vietnam veteran detective, a leggy blonde movie star, lots of degrading and exploitative sex scenes and breast shots, even a ninja showdown at the end with oodles of blood. All of this mindless filler only serves to detract from the conspiracy plot, which never lives up to its promises or answers most of the questions it raises.

Beinhart’s complete Schwarzeneggarization of American Hero makes for a disappointing book that’ll probably spark fifteen minutes of debate on the “Today” show when the action-star-of-the-month comes around to plug his starring role in the movie adaptation. The author tries to cover his tracks by subtly suggesting that his story is a parody of such films — look, didn’t the hero just tell his buxom girlfriend he felt like they were in a movie? But it’s like the famous scene in Wayne’s World where Wayne and Garth gleefully attack product placements in movies by exaggerating them to the point of ludicrousness. Do you think that, despite their anti-corporate advertising stance, they didn’t take the money?

Note: I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this book did, in fact, get made into a Hollywood movie. A surprisingly, shockingly, really good Hollywood movie, called “Wag the Dog” starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro. I give credit largely to screenwriter David Mamet.

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