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'Bombshell' review: Fast-paced, but flawed look at Fox News' harassment scandals

Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly and John Lithgow

Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly and John Lithgow as Roger Ailes in "Bombshell." Credit: Lionsgate/Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

PLOT At Fox News, two anchors accuse the network's CEO of sexual harassment.

CAST Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie

RATED R (sexuality and language)

LENGTH 1:48

PLAYING AT AMC Lincoln Square 13 and Regal Union Square, Manhattan; opens locally Dec. 20.

BOTTOM LINE A whirlwind tour through one of American television's sleazier episodes.

Politics, power, sex and the media make a potentially explosive mix in "Bombshell," the story of two high-profile on-air women who risked their careers by accusing Fox News chairman Roger Ailes of sexual harassment. Starring Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson and Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, "Bombshell" has plenty of real-life juice to give it jolts of relevance. By introducing Margot Robbie as a fictional victim, however, "Bombshell" dampens some of its impact.

"Bombshell" presents Fox News as a stereotypical news organization — sensationalist and dumbed-down on screen, fear-driven and male-dominated behind the scenes — but unusual in its unabashed right-wing slant. That stems directly from Ailes, played by John Lithgow as a decrepit, paranoid geezer with none of the Napoleonic charisma Rusell Crowe gave him in Showtime's series "The Loudest Voice." Some may take this view of Fox News as gospel, others may smell Hollywood bias, but "Bombshell" effectively presents the network as a microcosm of current American culture, where requests for sensitivity are dismissed as "political correctness" and any attempt to change the status quo is seen as a lack of fealty.

It's Carlson, played by Kidman with gravitas and an added chin-dimple, who starts the ball rolling with a potential lawsuit against Ailes, forcing Kelly to make a decision: Watch the fight, or join it? Theron plays Kelly as a smart, savvy woman whose husky voice and red-white-and-blue dress communicate strength of conviction — to a point. After all, how is she supposed to win any he-said-she-said when the future U.S. President is energizing his base by calling her a "bimbo" on Twitter? Kelly defends her infamous softball interview with Trump — and her silence about Ailes — as pure pragmatism.

The character of Kayla, a young producer ambushed by Ailes in his office, is empathetically played by Robbie but strikes a false note nevertheless. She's meant as a composite of anonymous harassment survivors, but comes off as cartoonish and overcomplicated, a doe-eyed evangelical but also a closeted bisexual who sleeps with an even more closeted Democratic colleague (Kate McKinnon). It feels like a mistake to give this odd creation, rather than Carlson or Kelly, the film's most emotional monologue about shame and trauma.

Fans of Adam McKay's whiz-bang sociopolitical broadsides "Vice" and "The Big Short" (written by this film's Charles Randolph) will find a lot to like in "Bombshell," which is directed at a fast-paced, fourth-wall-breaking clip by Jay Roach. Keep an eye on the supporting cast, which includes Malcolm McDowell as Fox owner Rupert Murdoch and Richard Kind as Ailes' lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

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