AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH written and directed by Davis Guggenheim, with Al Gore. 96 minutes. A Paramount Pictures release. Opens Friday (June 2). For venues and times, see Movies, page 195. Rating: NNN
The man who could have been president is sitting across from me, and I barely recognize him.
It's not just his harried-businessman appearance puffy visage, staid ill-fitting navy suit or the quick, grateful gulps he's taking of Diet Coke. There's something else. As he begins to talk about his role in the global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth, I'm shocked to realize that the word I'm looking for to describe the new Al Gore is "passionate."
I'm not the only one taking another look at him. Since the triumphant debut of The Inconvenient Truth at Sundance, everyone wants to know about his future ambitions, but Gore is quick to point out that he's a "recovering politician."
It's a clever retort, one of many prepared bon mots he's honed to perfection since his devastating "loss" in the 2000 election.
Hardly surprising. A man with his background was raised to know his audience, but when it comes to this issue, it's obvious that Gore's conviction is sincere.
"I feel a sense of mission," he says, looking at me intently. "I wouldn't be comfortable not doing it. If you were me, you'd do the same thing. You just want to get on the street corner and cry out, "Look at this, we have to do something!'"
This personal commitment has made him an easy object for ridicule, notably in a recent South Park episode.
Gore gives a rueful laugh. "I haven't seen it. I plan to." He turns to his publicist to figure out how to download it, then returns to our conversation, his expression suggesting he knows it might be better not to watch the show.
"I don't know about those guys," he jokes. It looks like he wants to say more, but he just shakes his head and drawls the name of the episode sarcastically, "Manbearpig."
Two weeks after this interview, he spoofs himself and his would-be presidency on Saturday Night Live his second time hosting since his famous post-defeat 2000 gig, for which his daughter Kristina (Futurama) helped write sketches. "She told me that the secret to surviving that show is to say no a lot, and," he says, laughing. "I did."
So he's a good sport, but does South Park have a point? Isn't he being an alarmist?
He refutes this.
"Look at the facts. The debate is over. There are five points on which scientists have all agreed. Global warming is real. We're responsible for it. Effects can and will be catastrophic. It's happening at an alarming rate. It's not too late."
His knowledge is impressive, so why not just stick to the facts in his Power-point slide show? Why would this private man choose to let the film feature important personal moments?
"I didn't want to add the biographical elements, but Davis explained to me that there's a difference between a live show and a movie: in a live show you are right there to make a connection, but for a movie you have to supply that connection by relating to the character on screen. "Al,' he said, "as far as characters go, you're it. '"
His time at Sundance has paid off. He's now an expert plugger: he calls Truth "the ultimate action film," mentions his book (same title, coming out the same day) and the movie's website. But that doesn't mean politics is en-tirely forgotten, as those who witnessed his impassioned speech on Martin Luther King Day well know.
He derides Bush and Cheney for "putting phony reporters into the press corps," frowns over "the Abu Ghraib disgrace" and makes his feelings very clear.
"The name of the movie doesn't just reflect the global warming issue; it's everything else the government is doing to banish or censor the truths that are inconvenient to deal with."
Asked if there are any misconceptions he'd like to clear up, he fakes a growl and answers with the timing of a born comedian, "That I've gained weight."
AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (Davis Guggenheim) Rating: NNN
Forget the scare tactics of the movie's trailer. This is actually an optimistically cautionary educational film about the dangers of global warming - melted glaciers, drowning polar bears, Hurricane Katrina - and the fact that there's still time to save our planet.
Former U.S. vice-president Al Gore stars, in a role he wears surprisingly well. Funny, articulate, self-deprecating and, yes, passionate, Gore is a great teacher who's dedicated years to assembling this research and presenting it to audiences for almost 20 years.
But the movie has flaws. Despite Gore's and director Davis Guggenheim's intentions, it's not always engaging. The interwoven personal elements - Gore's son's near-death, the 2000 election and his sister's fatal lung cancer - showcase the ex-pol's changing priorities, but the switch from monologue to science show is awkward, and there are far too many shots of Gore looking pensive.