In A Class By Herself

Having proved himself an equal-opportunity offender in "Citizen Ruth"--a comedy that skewered both sides of the abortion debate-- satirist Alexander Payne turns his jaundiced eye on an Omaha high-school election. The front runner (because she's running uncontested) is the ferociously perky go-getter Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon). This ruthless overachiever so offends "Teacher of the Year" Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) that he recruits sweet, dumb football hero Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) to run against her. Joining the fray is Paul's discontented lesbian sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell), whose proposal to abolish student government altogether wins her unexpected popularity.

No one comes out of "Election" unscathed. Poor Mr. McAllister, who would seem to be the voice of morality, is willing to betray all the principles of democracy--not to mention his marriage vows--in his increasingly unhinged efforts to stop the Flick juggernaut. Director Payne, who adapted Tom Perrotta's novel with Jim Taylor, has an authentically dire view of human behavior, which he expresses in crisp, edgy and sometimes startlingly raunchy style. The comedy may not resonate as deeply as the well-named Payne intends, but between Witherspoon's exuberant solipsism and Broderick's talent for absorbing massive humiliation, the chuckles keep coming like poisoned darts.

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