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Jesse the Movie
By Mary Stucky
May 21, 1999
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Former pro-wrestler Nils Allen Stewart plays Jesse Ventura in the made-for-TV movie.
Photo: NBC
On Sunday evening, NBC will broadcast "The Jesse Ventura Story," a made-for-TV movie commissioned shortly after Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota. Critics have panned the movie, calling it shallow and inaccurate. Still, it presents a generally favorable - if simplistic - view of Ventura and his anti-establishment message. The movie also raises troubling questions about the intersection of politics and entertainment.

THERE'S THE PINK FEATHER BOA, the bleached-blonde hair, sunglasses, and the make-my-day attitude; though the actor playing Ventura has done little to try to imitate his speech. If you like professional wresting, you'll love the Jesse Ventura Story.

The movie-Ventura is a likable guy - rebellious, but hardworking; flamboyant, but dedicated to family; a reluctant politician battling the evils of big government, career politicians, and business as usual.

Ventura - the real Ventura - has refused to talk about the movie.
Photo: Bob Collins
But as the critics have already pointed out, Skip Humphrey and Norm Coleman are played as one-dimensional politicos and look nothing like the real candidates. The movie has Humphrey living in a mansion, the Minnesota Capitol resembles a sinister castle. According to Republican Party Chair Tony Sutton, there are other errors. "The inaccuracies make his campaign seem very unsophisticated, very grassroots by having it look like he shot his commercials himself with Dean Barkley doing the voice-overs," Sutton says. "That was not true. They had one of the top ad agencies in the country."

The movie's more-or-less positive portrayal of Ventura's life omits some of the racier details contained in the governor's autobiography, which Ventura will be hawking around the country next week.

"Here's what really is on the surface: a really interesting story," says political scientist Chris Gilbert. "My goodness, how did any state elect somebody from such a non-traditional background to be their governor over two people who had pretty-good credentials themselves to be governor. That in and of itself is intriguing."

Want More?

Why was this movie shot in Toronto and not Minnesota? MPR's Bill Catlin looks at how Canada attracts the movie industry and what the Minnesota Film Board wants to do about it.

Ventura's appearances on Letterman and Leno prove he's a ratings phenomenon. What better time than May-sweeps month to broadcast a movie about Ventura's life? The local NBC-TV affiliate, KARE 11, is capitalizing on the movie. The news department is producing an hour-long special which will run prior to the movie.

"We suspect there's going to be a natural audience interested in the governor and why not take advantage of that?" says Tom Lindner, KARE's news director. "Why not take advantage of that audience and give it a good hard-news perspective? I think people need to realize what it is. It's an entertainment show. It's not a documentary. It's based on a real person and real things but it doesn't follow the real script."

And it doesn't have the endorsement of the governor who has been uncharacteristically silent on the subject. About a week ago, MPR asked Ventura about the movie. The governor responded by pursing his lips, shaking his head, and refusing to speak at all. But the actor who plays the governor in the movie, former pro-wrestler Nils Allen Stewart, is convinced that Ventura will approve.

It won't hurt that the movie's producer, John Davis, is an old friend of Ventura's, according to Randy Adamsick of the Minnesota Film Board, who accompanied Ventura to Los Angeles for the Oscars. "What John Davis really wanted to assure the governor at their meeting over Oscars weekend in Los Angeles is that it was going to be a very respectful portrait," says Adamsick.

Adamsick says what bothers him most is that the movie was shot in Toronto - not Minnesota. He doesn't think the movie's dreadful reviews will have much long-term impact in Minnesota.

Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton says the movie doesn't address important questions about politics and entertainment. "What is public policy and politics and what is entertainment?" Sutton asks. "Jesse has blurred the line and maybe that is what people want."