Monday, April 15, 2024

Review: Kate Winslet Is More Than The Sum of “The Regime,” A Tedious Mix of “Veep” and “Succession”


I can watch Kate Winslet read the phone book, frankly. She can do anything. She’s a big deal with huge talents.

In HBO’s “The Regime,” a political satire, she’s Olympic swimmer in above ground pool. Her work as Elena Vernham, chancellor of an authoritarian regime of a fictional country located in the middle of Europe, is pithy and precise. Elena is a direct TV cousin of Selina Meyer of “Veep” — self possessed, ignorant of anyone else’s interests, and devastating to underlings.

But Winslet is a heavy presence among lightweights. While the other actors and characters are present, they have no heft. Julia Louis Dreyfus had a support system of recognizable stars. Elena — her bewildered husband calls her Lenny — is surrounded by people in whom we have no investment. They desperately need a Tyrion Lannister waiting outside Elena’s office, kicking up some trouble.

That situation doesn’t help as the story moves forward and becomes more and more obtuse. At least if you could hang on to one or more of the actors, you might be able to follow the action. But the story itself has no gravitational center. Elena has now risen to take over a small Central European country. But now what? Even Selina, in all her daffiness, had a point — she wanted to be President. In “The Regime,” Elena already has that position. So her self-centered behavior is not a hook. She’s funny, but she’s her own obstacle. (Hugh Grant plays her deposed father, and it would have been better if he were still in charge, and Elena was trying to succeed him.)

HBO has made much of the show’s creator having worked on “Succession.” But remember, “Succession” was about the kids jockeying for position. Logan Roy — Brian Cox — was easily taken out of the equation. He wasn’t the central issue. He was an obstacle the kids were trying to circumvent.

Halfway into episode 1, “The Regime” just hits a sandbar. Elena is rude, mean, contrary. For a bit, that’s humorous. And then it’s not because the joke has played in every scene. Then you wonder– are her cabinet ministers trying to overthrow her? (Not really.) Is her husband cheating on her? (No.) Actually the husband, a French writer, has a funny set up for a story– for some reason, Elena simply stole him from his wife and child. He went blithely along with it. It’s weird because he’s not much of a catch, and the actor who plays him isn’t particularly interesting.

Then there’s the added “Wag the Dog” element. Matthias Schoenaerts plays a kind of restrained psycho corporal in the Army who becomes Elena’s right hand man (and lover? who knows?). This is a comedy, but Schoenaerts is not a zany guy. He’s supposed to be playing Woody Harrelson’s part, but he’s leaden where he should float.

When you think of Kate Winslet in her landmark limited series, “Mare of Easttown,” she’s a standout among a bunch of absorbing players. The story has richness and purpose. Everyone’s headed in the same direction. Here, everyone seems confused, and I think the audience will be as well.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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