Monday, June 6, 2011

Dave (1993)

Lightweight, moderately entertaining Capra-esque comedy about a shlubby presidential impersonator who, when the actual Commander in Chief has a mid-coital stroke, gleefully takes his place. The impersonator, Dave, is actually a full-time council worker who, predictably, is on the opposite end of the moral spectrum from the president's education-cutting, duplicitous administration. After the president is incapacitated, his power-hungry Secretary of State and a formerly idealistic advisor, played by Frank Langella and Kevin Dunn, respectively, immediately send the VP on a tour of Africa, while educating Dave in the ways and traditions of the Oval Office. While Dave initially goes along with them, making the rounds and giving their speeches, a meeting with his local friend and accountant (played by Charles Grodin), where he figures out how to "fix the books," inspires him to repackage the government or, at least, his administration. This catches the attention of his estranged, Hilary-Clinton-esque First Lady, played by Sigourney Weaver, and the purity and goodwill of the nation begin to take a backseat to White House balcony flirting and blind idealism.

When I say the film is Capra-esque, I do not just mean its "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"-lite plotline; the dialogue, the performances, even the portrayal of the White House are all bathed in an anachronistic, hopeful light. While it differentiates the film from similar, more realistic portrayals of the White House, such as Aaron Sorkin's The American President and The West Wing, it also renders the film rather aimless and rudimentary; rather than deal with any contemporary political issues, Dave talks a lot about "returning" to "a good, strong America" without ever proposing how that is, practically, possible. The Capra-esqueness also extends to its cast; Weaver, Langella, Dunn, Grodin, a late appearance by Ben Kingsley, and, especially, Kevin Kline as Dave, all being pros, let the cornier aspects of the film dictate their performance, and find an ideal kismit with the material that overshadows its glaringly obvious plot holes (which I don't need to mention; this film's about a normal guy SUCCESSFULLY pretending to be the president). Ivan Reitman, amidst a run of family-friendly studio comedies that included Twins, Kindergarten Cop, and Junior (guess what: he's in this one too *hint, hint*), actually achieves a delicate balence between our realistic associations with contemporary Washington D.C. and the uber-hopeful tone of the script, and creates a political environment we can comfortably observe, if not truly believe in. In the end, while the forced love story and the hilariously broad portrait of the political system take their tolls, the film remains a cute, charmingly optimistic comedy with some great, professional performances (particularly from Kline, the delightfully and expectedly dry Grodin, and Dunn).

Recommended to fans of Frank Capra's political comedies and mid-90's studio-comedy optimism. I was pleasantly surprised at the cohesion and consistency of this film; a braver, less family-friendly draft of the script might have made for a marvelous update of pre-WWII cinematic idealism, but what is there is sufficient for a successful Kevin Kline comedy of errors.

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