' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Dave (1993)

Friday, October 28, 2016

Friday's Old Fashioned: Dave (1993)

In Ivan Reitman’s “Dave” Kevin Kline plays dual roles as the titular character, Dave Kovic, head of a temp agency in Washington D.C., and Bill Mitchell, President of the United States. The former, it just so happens, looks exactly like the latter, and so when the latter suffers a debilitating stroke, a series of convenient, devious shenanigans take place so that the former becomes temporary stand-in as POTUS. The binary opposition between the two men is blatant. Bill is your requisite fictional politician, unscrupulous, unfaithful and irredeemable. Dave is affable to the bone, so much so that if you looked up the definition of “good guy” in the dictionary you would find, well, obviously. In fact, you might even wonder why he resides in D.C., that den of governmental vipers. He seems more cut out for Pleasantville. He rides a bike, sings show tunes, and the closest he gets to vice is drinking a Budweiser™. If Bill Mitchell is all faults, Dave Kovic is entirely faultless, so picture-perfect he even gets a Hero Shot at the end complete with a mist he can walk off into. It’s almost too much.


Ah hell, that Hero Shot probably is too much, but so what? Look, “A Man Watches A Movie And He Must Admit He Is……yada, yada” and I re-watched “Dave” for the first time in a long time in advance of America’s second Presidential debate when a Vulgar Talking Yam (coinage: Charles Pierce) turned the proceedings into a shameless circus where the three rings were occupied by his narcissism, paranoia and crudeness. Therefore I was ripe for Ivan Reitman’s (over)dose of All-American sentimentality and conspicuous exercise in civics.

Reitman’s film could have been a simple comedy, an ordinary joe dave masquerading as President, using the White House bowling alley, placing absurd orders to 1600’s Pennsylvania chef, getting in all sorts of politically incorrect capers with visiting foreign dignitaries, like a democratic “King Ralph.” There was a time Reitman might’ve used this set-up to implement anarchy. After all, in his seminal “Ghostbusters” the Environmental Protection Agency was the bad guy. I cannot imagine even for a second the EPA being a bad guy in “Dave”. The chief villain, after all, is chief of staff Bob Alexander (Frank Langella), who is as one note as Dave, belittling homeless shelters, which Dave becomes desperate to rescue when he realizes they are the pet cause of the estranged first lady, Ellen (Sigourney Weaver).

So Dave becomes a polite warrior, battling Bob and outfoxing him, enlisting his accountant pal (Charles Grodin, whose harried dishevelment is hilarious) and the isolated first lady in his cause to oust the corrupt chief of staff and get the Vice President (Ben Kingsley) into the Oval Office instead. This battle is admittedly simplistic. I mean, if only a little addition and subtraction on a legal pad really could completely re-arrange the budget and turn this country around, and Dave’s promise to put into effect a vague plan that will provide a job for every American is less Hillary than Trump, a slogan told in buzzwords. The closest the film gets to any kind of complexity is in the performance of Kevin Dunn as Alan Reed, the communications director, who allays himself with Bob, even as Dunn allows hints of guilt to quietly emerge before his resistance blooms in full and he takes a stand, the most moving moment in the picture because it feels like the most earned.

Still, even for the hoariness of the themes, there is simultaneously a welcoming professionalism to the screenplay, penned by Gary Ross, in the way that it skillfully builds set-ups and payoffs and carves out personality for even minor characters, like Ving Rhames’s dutiful secret service agent, who, as it happens, gets perhaps the best set-up and payoff in the film. And I could not help but note the irony of that efficiency manifesting itself in a film about the inner-workings of Washington, where the political system can seem so gummed up, so broken down, so absent new parts. If “Dave” is totally telegraphed, you still can’t help but admire its solid construction.

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