WASHINGTON - The hotly anticipated HBO movie "Game Change" airs this weekend just as former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has audaciously reinserted herself into the American political scene, suggesting on so-called Super Tuesday she'd step in to save the Republican party if necessary.
Palin has been complaining bitterly for weeks about the film, which airs Saturday and is based on the best-selling political memoir of the same name about the 2008 presidential campaign. She's demanded HBO add a fiction disclaimer to the movie that portrays her as ill-informed, inept and possibly mentally unstable; the cable giant has refused.
In retaliation, her political action committee recently released its own two-minute video, a mock movie trailer, entitled "Game Change We Can Believe In."
It's a collection of laudatory remarks about Palin by many of the same Republican strategists who later spoke of deep regret for pushing John McCain to tap the young, dynamic Alaska governor as his running mate in a high-stakes gamble to beat Barack Obama.
Two of those political aides, in fact — Steve Schmidt and Nicolle Wallace — have said the film represents an eerily accurate portrayal of Palin's implosion following her heady first few days on the campaign trail in late summer, 2008.
Schmidt, portrayed in the HBO film by Woody Harrelson, recently described the movie as "surreal" and "an out-of-body experience." Wallace, who has confessed that she couldn't bring herself to vote for McCain after working with Palin, has said it accurately captures the events of the Arizona senator's ill-fated attempts to win the election.
A spokesman for the HBO film, meantime, praised Palin's so-called Super PAC for their mock trailer.
"Doing the video was very effective in undercutting her critics," said Keith Appell. "She has every right to remind everyone how laudatory these people were of her in the beginning. She should do that. The fact that she has to do that, I think, is a bit sad."
McCain, played by Ed Harris in the film, has also come to Palin's defence — and so too did his wife, Cindy, in an interview on CNN on Wednesday night.
"Sarah Palin is a remarkable individual," she said, adding she hadn't seen the entire film. "I think what happened to her is totally unfair. I am truly sorry if they have depicted her in any fashion other than a strong, independent woman."
The timing isn't great for Palin, who has been slowly rebuilding her reputation after hitting rock bottom a little over a year ago in the aftermath of the assassination attempt on Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Her public approval ratings went into a freefall when, against the advice of Fox News head Roger Ailes, she made a video accusing the "lamestream media" of "blood libel" for suggesting her gun-infused political rhetoric was contributing to a toxic political atmosphere in the United States.
The term blood libel is anti-Semitic, stemming from false allegations that Jews once killed Christian children to acquire blood for Jewish rituals.
She further infuriated Ailes — who has said he hired Palin as a political commentator because she was "hot" — when she announced on a conservative radio show in October that she wasn't running for president in 2012, not on the network that was paying her $1 million a year for her contributions.
But in the past few months, she's emerged a prolific political pundit, frequently weighing in on the Republican presidential race on Fox and throwing her support behind candidate Newt Gingrich.
And yet it was to CNN, not Fox, that she gave her most definitive answer yet about whether she'd be willing to step into the race in the event of a brokered convention.
Such a phenomenon occurs when no candidate has locked up the necessary 1,144 delegates to seal the nomination, and other politicians can offer themselves up for consideration at the party's convention.
"Anything is possible. I don't close any doors that perhaps would be open out there," she said. "My plan is to be at that convention."
She also said she hadn't ruled out running for president in 2016.
"I don't discount any idea or plan that isn't in my control ... I would seriously consider whatever I could do to help our country to put things back on the right track."
And so there's little doubt her presidential aspirations might not be helped by a Hollywood A-list actress, Julianne Moore, portraying her as not knowing why there's a North and South Korea, believing Iraq's Saddam Hussein ordered the 9-11 terrorist attacks and asserting that the Queen, not the prime minister, was the head of the British government.
Nonetheless the reviews for "Game Change," based on the 2010 book by political reporters Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, have almost unanimously pointed out that Moore's performance is a sympathetic one.
Rather than portraying her as a deranged caricature, most critics say, Moore plays a woman thrust suddenly into the international spotlight with no vetting and next to no preparation.
"The movie seems to want you to realize that there's a human being there, someone who could use a break from the scorn and expectation heaped upon her," wrote the Washington Post's Hank Stuever.
Nonetheless, Palin and her supporters have been having none of it.
Several Palin aides recently held a conference call with the media to dispute scenes in the film. And a recent release by her Super PAC was scathing, calling the film a smear job created by devoted Obama boosters.
"Behind Game Change's slanderous agenda is a trail of money leading straight to the Barack Obama campaign and the Democrat Party," the release said.
"Writer Danny Strong and director Jay Roach each donated the maximum $2,300 to Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008. Even actress Julianne Moore, who plays the governor herself, contributed to the more than $120,000 donated to Obama and Democrats since 2008 by the film’s producers and cast."
After finally watching the movie, the Super PAC posted another statement, once again referring to the film as fiction.
"The movie is a series of scenes where the dialogue, locations and participants are invented or rendered unrecognizable for dramatic effect."