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The Paper impresses with its realistic characters

The Paper

Directed by Ron Howard.

Screenplay by David and Stephen Koepp.

Starring Michael Keaton, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Randy Quaid, and Marisa Tomei.

Playing at Loews Cheri.

By Ann Ames
Arts Editor

Anyone who has ever worked on a newspaper knows that you could live your whole life in the newsroom and still have more to do. The manic frenzy of this film captures that feeling, and from first sight of The Sun's office, the whole movie rushes forward as if in fear of the ever-present deadline.

The Paper hides its identity in an opening scene of blood and seriousness. By the time you remember that this movie is supposed to be a comedy, you have to run to catch up with a plot structure you should know by heart. Add a few realistic obstacles, and even the obvious becomes a surprise, if only because you can't believe you didn't see it coming.

Even after the script turns humorous, there is nothing to stop any particular moment from being poignant or maddening or thrilling or crushing; director Ron Howard does not sell out substance for an easy laugh. There are plenty of those, anyway: Most of the characters on the Sun's payroll are certifiably insane, and everyone is quick with the stinging one-liner.

So with sharp and manic wit, The Paper portrays an exhilarating day-in-the-life adventure in a big-city newsroom. The newspaper itself seems on the edge of annihilation, as if the office would implode if the mad rush between its walls were to stop. The pair of workmen dragging a ladder around the room all day, fixing who-knows-what in the ceiling, gives the impression that the collapse has already begun. And Glenn Close, yet again a mega-bitch as the Sun's managing editor, reminds everyone as often as possible that the paper comes close to folding every six months.

In the face of such adversity, Michael Keaton, the intense metro editor, has to somehow get the news out. When the Sun misses a big story because one of its writers refused to answer his beeper, Keaton fires everyone up with the need to save face and one-up the paper's competition. Then, when it becomes apparent that in the course of doing so they could also save two innocent kids from prison, the already hectic pace of the office accelerates to near-hysteria. With everyone else either against him or incompetent (one has to wonder how some of these people got their jobs), Keaton enlists the aid of the gun-toting, paranoid columnist (Randy Quaid) asleep on his couch. The two go out into the field in a desperate and mildly devious last-minute attempt to get someone credible to talk, all the while fighting off such loonies as the reporter whining that everyone on staff is conspiring to ruin his life, and two writers waging a territorial war over everything from an office desk to turf in Brooklyn.

In between the quips and the craziness, Howard and his cast make certain we see that although these people are adrenaline addicts, they are people first and journalists second. Keaton never once pretends to be in control of the chaotic scene in his office, and he spends part of the day fretting over a higher-paying job offer from the Sentinel, the conservative uptown rival of the Sun. Close, while hardnosed, deceitful, and greedy, at least shows us that most of her acidity is born of frustration with a position she never really wanted. And Robert Duvall, wizened old chain-smoker in the editor-in-chief's office, tries between news meetings to cope with cancer and somehow connect with the daughter he has alienated.

The only really irksome point of the script's characterization is that women fare poorly. At one extreme, Close, with her tough-guy, money-minded attitude, is ready to obstruct justice in order to save a few bucks. Ironically, her approach to the "big story" is nearly botched by the woman at the other end of the spectrum: a young, sincere but clueless rookie photographer. Somewhere in between, Marisa Tomei, as Keaton's wife, proves her professional dedication by waddling out of the house, eight-and-a-half months pregnant, to follow a lead, but whines constantly to Keaton about anything she can think of. She pressures him to take the Sentinel job for its higher salary and greater security, even though they both know it is not what he wants. Keaton, for his part, is insensitive to all of them. He opposes Close regardless of the issue, he picks that particular photographer specifically because she can be counted on to miss an important shot, and he treats his wife as if her pregnancy were a psychosomatic illness.

Still, the moments of gender conflict are too few to dwell on, and in all other social and moral matters The Paper has its story straight. It even points out a simple and effective argument against letting private citizens carry guns. And instead of preaching, most of the messages take a subtle tack, delivered with a refreshing dose of humanity. For example, we learn that you should never lie or steal, unless you're basically a nice guy and you err for a good cause, and you must make sure to pay attention to the important things in life, lest you wind up without them when you really need them. And do you want to know what those important things are? Check out The Paper: See all about it.