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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Dick

Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Michelle Williams
Director: Andrew Fleming
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 94 Minutes
Release Date: August 1999
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Dan Hedaya, Will Ferrell, Harry Shearer, Dave Foley, Ted McGinley, Ryan Reynolds

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Andrew Fleming has a super concept going for him with "Dick." Splashing a revisionist interpretation of one dramatic incident in U.S. history across the screen, the co-writer and director of this satire re-writes the Watergate chapter and by doing so, explains one of the great unsolved mysteries of a top political scandal: the source called Deep Throat that exposed the president's connection to the burglary of the Democratic party headquarters. As a stroke of imagination, the story brings to mind "All the President's Men." But to a greater degree think of Ivan Reitman's movie "Dave," in which the U.S. president is incapacitated by a stroke and the look-alike title character (played by Kevin Kline) takes his place, winning over the public, the press and even the First Lady. In its farfetched premise, Dave proves that the most complex national questions all have simple, homespun answers, and even solves the problem of the national budget with the advice of his local accountant.

There's a difference between "Dave," which was implausible and yet successfully related, and "Dick," a likewise improbable yarn, which is not. "Dave" had superior actors like the inimitable Kevin Kline and the impressive veteran of stage and screen, Frank Langella. "Dick" features two gifted performers who have come quite a way for their age, but to my knowledge are both under 21 and have not matured into convincing thesps. A more important weakness, though, is that Fleming overlooks the concept that satire must be grounded in a recognizably realistic portrayal of characters, but the director portrays Pulitzer-prize winning journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as a couple of awkward kids who clown around with each other in much the way that the far younger principals of the movie do. While Fleming does not make saintly characters of the heroes of the tale, he paints all with an equally derisive brush. Not only the journalists, but the girls who expose the president's betrayal of his office, their parents, and even the squeaky- clean Henry Kissinger are all bimbos, bozos, and assorted unformed personalities.

Fleming follows the trajectory of the Watergate Affair with reasonable fidelity while substituting outrageous deviations. When 15-year-old best friends Arlene Lorenzo (Michelle Williams) and Betsy Jobs (Kirsten Dunst) accidentally happen upon the burglary of the Democratic Convention office in the capital's Watergate Hotel, the presidential advisers John Dean (Jim Breuer), Bob Haldeman (Dave Foley), and G. Gordon Liddy (Harry Shearer) think they know too much. President Dick Nixon (Dan Hedaya) tries to buy them off by giving the teenage girls jobs as youth advisers after having appointed them walkers for his dog, Checkers (Brunswick). Haldeman wonders whether the girls are a threat at all, since he describes them by saying "I've seen more going on upstairs in a yam." The young ladies are indeed dense, knowing virtually nothing about government. Thoroughly naive about how things get done in Washington, they think they can end the Vietnam War by telling Nixon "War is not healthy for children and other living things."

For a while, though, it appears that the White House could lend them an ear. In the movie's most amusing scene, the girls give Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev (Len Doncheff) cookies they baked, unknowingly adding some pot supplied by Betsy's spaced-out brother, Larry (Devon Gummersall). As the Russian party secretary and the U.S. chief executive break into "Hello Dolly," a potential nuclear disaster is averted. Because Arlene seems to have no life except for one rich in fantasies, she develops a crush on the president, dreams of taking him away from his wife Pat, but is later thoroughly disillusioned upon hearing tapes of the president cursing and making anti-Semitic remarks.

Ann Brodie's makeup job helps make all the high government officials look strikingly like their actual counterparts. Saul Rubinek is a ringer for Kissinger, laying on the heavy German accent, while Dan Hedaya could almost pass for the dishonored chief. But the portrayal of Bob Woodward by Will Ferrell and particularly the depiction of Woodward's partner on the Washington Post, Carl Bernstein (by Bruce McCulloch) are grossly silly and unfair. Watching the two youthful stars travel through the political arena is at first not without interest, but Dunst and Williams's one-joke roles cannot carry the movie's 95 minutes. The soundtrack, so applicable to each scene and so dramatic, is a highlight, especially Carly Simon's song, "You're So Vain."

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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