A look inside Hollywood and the movies. : THE MURPHY FILE : Some Might Say That Fantasy Isn't Such a Bad Deal, Given the Political Realities

Audiences who've been following the televised political debates could end up thinking that the funniest of the candidates running for office isn't named George, Bill or Ross.

So who could it be? Here's a hint: "On Nov. 3, Americans will go to the polls to elect new leaders. On Dec. 4, Americans will go to the movies to see what we've gotten ourselves into."

The campaign is part of the marketing strategy for the upcoming comedy "The Distinguished Gentleman," which stars Eddie Murphy as candidate Jeff Johnson, who runs for office on a lark and ends up winning. It just so happens that the name Jeff Johnson is the name of his district's very popular representative, who many voters don't know is dead.

The marketeers at the Walt Disney Co.'s Hollywood Pictures division figured that the debate tie-in was just too ripe an opportunity to pass up--especially in light of the fact that the movie's theme of corruption on Capitol Hill goes hand-in-hand with the anti-Washington sentiment that's peppered this political season. One of the key comedic setups is when it dawns on Murphy how much money he'll make as a congressman--and how willing lobbyists are to throw money at him once elected.

But the big difference, said one Disney source, is that "you want to laugh at our film. I'm not sure that (the truth) is as funny."

("Distinguished Gentleman" was penned by Marty Kaplan, former speechwriter to Walter Mondale. His wife, Susan Estrich, is a law professor at USC and political pundit.)

Disney bought national commercial time on ABC, CNN, CBS and Fox. The spots also ran during numerous local nighttime news broadcasts following the vice presidential debate on Tuesday. Speaking about the Tuesday debate between Dan, Al and James, a Disney source said, "in many ways, it was an even better tie-in than with the presidential candidates. We thought Eddie Murphy would be perfect with those characters."

But the studio doesn't want to overdo it. No TV spots were bought for the remaining presidential debate scheduled Monday.

It's up to the viewers now who's the biggest audience-pleaser.

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