Dave (1993) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for brief nudity and language
Running Time: 110 min.
Cast: Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Frank Langella, Kevin Dunn, Ving Rhames, Ben Kingsley, Charles Grodin, Laura Linney, Faith Prince, Bonnie Hunt, Christopher Dodd (cameo), Eleanor Clift (cameo), Tom Harkin (cameo), Larry King (cameo), Michael Kinsley (cameo), Jay Leno (cameo), Chris Matthews (cameo), John McLaughlin (cameo), Robert Novak (cameo), Tip O'Neill (cameo), Arnold Schwarzenegger (cameo), Paul Simon (cameo), Ben Stein (cameo), Oliver Stone (cameo), Alan Simpson (cameo), Helen Thomas (cameo)
Director: Ivan Reitman
Screenplay: Gary Ross
Review published March 5, 2007
Kevin Kline (Consenting Adults, Silverado) plays a dual role, one as the President of the United States, Bill Mitchell, and one as temp agency coordinator and Presidential look-alike, Dave Kovic. Dave is sought after and hired as a stand-in for Mitchell when the latter wants to get out of public appearances, mostly in order for him to get it on with his female aides. However, the temp gig turns into something more permanent when Mitchell has a stroke that leaves him comatose, and Mitchell's closest advisor, Bob Alexander (Langella, Masters of the Universe), refuses to let the "boy scout" Vice President (Kingsley, Sneakers) take over. In fact, Alexander wants the job for himself, which he plans to get once all the ducks are in a row. Meanwhile, Dave must continue to give the appearance of Mitchell in command, but soon discovers that he might actually have a chance to affect some real-life change in the country, starting with getting the First Lady, Ellen (Weaver, Working Girl), to fall in love with him for the first time, all over again.
Although director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Kindergarten Cop) shows he can deliver a good film that doesn't rely on Bill Murray's comic timing, Dave is still carried on the buoyant performance of its main star, Kevin Kline. With such a farfetched plot already in place, this is the sort of film that could have easily degenerated into a muddled farce with a one-note stand-up comic as the lead, but with a good comedic and dramatic actor like Kline at the forefront, he is able to keep the tone of the comedy and drama appropriate to each scene. Strong supporting actors help, including a strong, mannered performance from Langella, who exudes ambition and corruption without ever needing to show all his cards as the film's main villain. Political junkies should also get a kick in seeing all of the real-life politicians and political pundits make cameo appearances, and even director Oliver Stone has some fun at his own expense in revealing another conspiracy theory, revealing to the world the truth about the look-alike plot, but to utter disbelief by the media.
Screenwriter Gary Ross proved to be on a roll in terms of bringing forth comedies with weight, after the smash hit, Big, and a lesser, but still respectable effort in Mr. Baseball. He would later opt to directing his own screenplays, turning in his best efforts, Pleasantville and Seabiscuit. His screenplay here is a tough sell, but thanks to the talent at hand, as well as in keeping the interesting developments continuously entertaining, the richness, depth and keen insight in Ross's tale of one man trying to redeem the tarnished reputation of government and use it a an agent for good is refreshing. Underneath the obvious comedy, the message is one of the importance and rewards of public leadership, showing that one person can make a difference if he has the character, determination, and strong conviction to get the job done. At the same time, the film does present a President who is able to lead because he is not beholden to his aides, political action committees, or corporations that got him elected -- a common man who knows what it's like to be one of the people who needs someone at the top looking out for the little guys, like himself.
Sadly for us, the events in Dave play out more like a Capra-esque fantasy than anything we may ever experience, tapping into that feeling of "Wouldn't it be nice if we actually had a leader who wasn't compromised and corrupted in his climb to the top?" that is inherent in all of us, from all political spectrums. Just as President Mitchell had once started out as just a normal guy who was worthy of being loved, he shut everyone and everything off, and in the end, he forgot what it was that was important to him to be the President. What a shame that our current political system would chew up and spit out an honest, incorruptible figure like Dave Kovic before the Presidential primaries could even begin. Since we're to apt to believe political lies from people who would rather sling mud than affect positive change, shallow sound bites and sensationalized media reports, we end up not getting the person at the top that we really want; we get the one we deserve.
©2007 Vince Leo