‘Knife Fight’ Review: A Rough Take on Dirty Politics Unspools at Tribeca

Fans of "The West Wing" will get a nostalgic kick out of "Knife Fight," which focuses on the nitty-gritty action of political campaigns. But this crowded sketch doesn't feel finished

Have you been missing “The West Wing?” Fans of Aaron Sorkin’s TV series will get a nostalgic kick out of “Knife Fight,” a film that focuses on the nitty-gritty, behind-the-scenes action of political campaigns and stars “West Wing” vets Rob Lowe and Richard Schiff.

The comic drama, which plays like minor league Sorkin, had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in Manhattan last night and a press screening today.

“Knife Fight” is the second feature film directed by Bill Guttentag, whose first was the mockumentary “Live!” He has won Oscars twice for documentary shorts subjects and been nominated three additional times for documentary shorts and features.

Guttentag cowrote the screenplay with Chris Lehane, a veteran Democratic political consultant who served as special assistant counsel to President Bill Clinton and as press secretary to Al Gore during the 2000 presidential campaign.

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In “Knife Fight,” Lowe plays Paul Turner, a former White House aide turned political strategist and fixer. Based out of San Francisco, he handles campaigns across the country and cleans up the messes — why can’t these guys ever keep it zipped? — that his clients keep getting into. (He apparently does all of this with a ludicrously small staff of just two.)

The movie’s title comes from Turner’s advice to a would-be gubernatorial candidate, an idealistic physician (Carrie-Anne Moss) who is a single mom. He warns her that politics is a “blood sport,” one that’s beyond dirty. “To win in politics, you have to be the person who’s willing to bring a gun to a knife fight,” Turner declares. (Later in the movie, an actual knife will propel a key plot development.)

Schiff, the other “West Wing” alum, shows up as a shadowy operative most at home in strip clubs who excels at digging up useful dirt for Turner. Others in the cast include Eric McCormack as a philandering governor; Saffron Burrows as his wife; Julie Bowen as an ambitious local TV reporter; Jamie Chung as Turner’s bright young assistant; and David Harbour as a senator accused of asking for more than just a massage from a shapely masseuse (Lehane’s former boss, Gore, whose name was linked to a similar rumor two years ago, must be feeling gored by that one).

There are also cameos by Daily Beast political and media writer Howard Kurtz and lawyer Alan Dershowitz, both playing variations on themselves.

The movie, at 99 minutes, feels long and suffers from having too many characters, most of them underdeveloped, and from juggling multiple storylines. “Knife Fight” offers a crowded canvas, but one that still seems more of a rough sketch than a detailed, completed painting.

The film is seeking distribution, with Deborah McIntosh handling domestic sales for WME Entertainment and Kirk D’Amica on foreign sales for Myriad Pictures.