Saturday, January 9, 2016

Stubs – Dave (1993)

Dave (1993) Starring: Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Frank Langella, Kevin Dunn, Ving Rhames, Ben Kingsley, Tom Dugan, Charles Grodin. Directed by Ivan Reitman. Produced by Ivan Reitman, Lauren Shuler Donner. Screenplay by Gary Ross.  Run Time: 110 minutes. U.S. Color, Political Comedy

Politics has been the subject of movies for quite some time. While Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939) may be one of the most famous, it is far from the only one. And as in Mr. Smith, politicians aren’t shown in a very good light.

Gary Ross may be most famous for his work on the first Hunger Games (2012) film, but he had been working as a writer in Hollywood since Big (1988), starring Tom Hanks and directed by Penny Marshall. It was Ross who had the idea for Dave and presented it to his good friend producer Lauren Shuler Donner in 1988. She tried to place the film at Columbia Pictures, but they turned it down. Warner Bros. bought it, but it sat on the shelf until Shuler could get out of her contract and Ivan Reitman, the director of the film, was available.

Dave Kovic (Kevin Kline) supplements his income from running a temporary employment agency in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. by impersonating the current President, Bill Jefferson Mitchell (Kevin Kline), for whom he is a dead ringer. One day after placing his umpteenth employee at his friend’s Murray Blum’s (Charles Grodin) accounting agency, Dave goes home.

Dave Kovic (Kevin Kline) runs a temp agency and supplements his income impersonating the Preisdent.

Waiting for him are two Secret Service Agents; one, Duane Stevensen (Ving Rhames), informs Dave that his country needs him as a decoy for the President after an appearance at a downtown hotel that night. Dave assumes that it is a matter of national security and agrees. In reality, it’s a rouse to cover up an extramarital affair Mitchell is having with one of his White House secretaries, Randi (Laura Linney).

It is during his tryst that things go wrong. Mitchell suffers a severe and debilitating stroke, which leaves him alive, but in a vegetative state. Now, of course, this is when the Vice President would step in to run the country. But White House Chief of Staff Bob Alexander (Frank Langella) and Communications Director Alan Reed (Kevin Dunn) have other ideas. Not wanting the honest VP to ruin their good thing, they convince Dave that VP Gary Nance (Ben Kingsley) is mentally incompetent and he would be helping the country until Mitchell can recover.
Dave, who admires Mitchell, is a novice when it comes to politics and doesn’t realize that Mitchell and his wife, 
First Lady Ellen Mitchell (Sigourney Weaver), essentially lead separate lives.

Not wanting to change their politics, Communications Director Alan Reed
(Kevin Dunn) and Chief of Staff Bob Alexander (Frank Langella) convince Dave
to pretend to be President, for the good of the country,after a stroke debilitates him.

With Dave on board and with some coaching from Alexander and Reed, the nation is notified that Mitchell had suffered a “minor circulatory problem of the head” and should make a full recovery. Once Dave, as Mitchell, is given a clean bill of health and returns to public display, Nance is sent on a 12-nation goodwill tour of Africa. Alexander and Reed use his absence to set him up as a participant in a Savings and Loan fraud, which Mitchell had actually been involved with.

Alexander plans to force Nance to resign his office, have the fake Mitchell appoint him as Vice President and then assume office when Mitchell publicly suffers a more serious stroke.

Ironically, Dave's enthusiasm for public service revives Mitchell's poll numbers. We see commentary about the new Mitchell from political round tables, like the McLaughlin Report, CNN’s Crossfire and even Jay Leno’s Tonight Show monologue. To capitalize on his newfound popularity, Reed arranges for him to spend the day with the First Lady when she goes to visit a homeless shelter for children. Dave is touched by their plight and actually, to the First Lady’s and the media’s notice, connects with a little boy at the shelter.

A fully recovered Mitchell jokes around with the real Arnold
 Schwarzenegger, at the time a harmless spokesperson for fitness.

But just when Ellen is starting to feel differently about her husband, Alexander, forging the President’s signature, vetoes the spending bill that included the $650 million of funding for that and like homeless shelters to run. Outraged, Ellen confronts Dave while he’s in the shower about the veto.

Not sure what to do, Dave has Duane call back Alexander and Reed to the White House. Mad about being disturbed by the stand-in, Alexander does tell him that if he can find $650 million in the budget to cut he can have his shelters. And Dave goes about doing just that. Calling in Marvin to help him go over the Federal Budget, Dave uses the next press-covered cabinet meeting to find ways of freeing up the money, much to the anger of Alexander.

Dave calls in his best friend and accountant Murray
 Blum (Charles Grodin) to help him trim the budget.

Ellen, however, suspects that Dave is not her husband and tricks him into revealing himself. She wants to see her husband and Duane takes them down to a secret room under the White House where Mitchell is being cared for by doctors and nurses that Alexander and Reed have paid off.

That night, both Ellen and Dave decide it’s time to leave the White House. Duane arranges for them to have a car, but their getaway is short-lived. Dave makes an illegal left turn and is pulled over by Washington D.C. police. Dave does some fast thinking and convinces the officer (Charles Hallahan) that they are both impersonators returning from a party. Ellen even pretends to be an imposter for herself and the officer believes them, though he pulls Dave aside and tells him that Ellen needs work.

Deciding there is still good work that they can do, Dave and Ellen return to the White House. Dave fires Alexander and then goes to a press conference to announce a jobs bill for every American who wants to work. Meanwhile, Nance returns from Africa and confronts Dave about his administrations smear campaign against him. Dave promises to take care of things.

Dave confides in Ellen about wanting to turn things over to Nance and she goes along, even though she’s fallen in love with Dave and doesn’t want to lose him. Alexander, meanwhile, goes to the press and reveals Mitchell’s involvement in the Savings and Loan fraud he’d earlier implicated Nance in.

Speaking before a joint session of Congress to address the allegations, Dave acknowledges wrong-doing and even brings a bulging briefcase of evidence that implicates himself and Alexander in the fraud. But he also publicly apologizes to Nance, just before falling to the floor, the victim of yet another stroke.

In a speech before a Joint Session of Congress, Dave exonerates the Vice President Nance (Ben
Kingsley) and puts the blame on himself and Alexander, before dropping dead from another stroke.

On the way to the hospital, Dave switches places with President Mitchell, whose body is wheeled into the emergency room. Dave makes his escape, dressed like a paramedic from the Washington D.C. Fire Department.

Fast forward to several months in the future; Nance has become Acting President and when Mitchell finally succumbs to his stroke, President of the U.S. Meanwhile, Alexander and others in the Mitchell administration are indicted for their involvement with the S&L fraud; and Mitchell’s jobs bill, which Nance has supported, becomes law.

Back at his temp agency, Kovic has decided to get politically involved and is running for city council on a shoe-string budget, with Murray as his campaign manager. One day, Ellen appears at the office to volunteer. Dave takes her back to his office, where they kiss. Realizing that everyone is watching them, Dave turns the blinds. For extra security, Duane, now wearing a Kovic campaign button, steps forward to guard the door.

Once you get past the coup d’état plot twist and our right as Americans to expect our elected officials to be real is violated, the movie is really rather funny. I mean, who but the most naïve would expect their accountant friend to be able to make heads or tails out of the federal budget? And what’s more, make headway.

Kevin Kline is a very versatile actor, proving here he can play two roles, though honestly his time as the real President Mitchell is very brief. But Kline is a man who can play comedy, winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for A Fish Called Wanda (1988); drama, Sophie’s Choice (1982); and musicals, The Pirates of Penzance (1983), based on the musical he also starred in on Broadway.

Prior to Dave, Kline had also appeared in The Big Chill (1983), and Grand Canyon (1991) both written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, as well as the biopic Chaplin (1992), in which he appeared as Douglas Fairbanks.

While he has done voice work for a series of animated films, including The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), The Road to El Dorado (2000), The Hunchback of Notre Dame II (2002), and the more recent The Tale of Despereaux (2008), his live action films since have been somewhat hit or miss. Wild Wild West (1999) which co-starred him with Will Smith, was a big budget film that underperformed at the box-office. De-Lovely (2004), a biopic in which Kline plays Cole Porter received mixed reviews and did not, despite its low budget, make much money. On the other hand, he received second billing to Steve Martin in The Pink Panther (2006), which was successful enough to spawn a sequel. Kline can currently be heard doing voice work on Fox’s animated series Bob’s Burgers.

Sigourney Weaver, who usually gives a solid performance, is good as Ellen Mitchell. You get a real sense that she’s been through a lot of grief in her marriage, what with his affairs, that she’s not really that upset to see him lying as a virtual vegetable after his stroke. The fact that she could fall in love with his doppelganger is a little strange, but if you believe you fall in love with the same type of person, then it’s quite plausible.

Frank Langella, who made a big splash as the title character in Dracula (1979), plays the power-mad White House Chief of Staff Bob Alexander, perhaps a foreshadowing of his Academy nominated depiction of Richard Nixon in Frost/Nixon (2008). While Mitchell is tangentially shown to be a Republican, Alexander is more obviously depicted as one, especially by the association shown with Nixon’s and Ford’s speechwriter Ben Stein played by himself.

Still bad, but less evil is Kevin Dunn as White House Communications Director Alan Reed. The Republican with a decent heart, who helps Dave right the wrongs Mitchell’s administration had created. Dunn has appeared in a variety of roles on both television and film, bouncing between dramas like Mississippi Burning (1988), Nixon (1995), All the King’s Men (2006), Lions for Lambs (2007) and True Detective (2014); and comedies Ghostbusters II (1989), Hot Shots! (1991), Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) and Veep (2013).

Ving Rhames, in the year before he played Marsellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction (1994), shows his comedic side here as a Secret Service Agent, a small, but important role. Ben Kingsley plays an even smaller role as Vice President Gary Nance. Quite a come down from Gandhi (1982) and Betrayal (1983), but Kingsley is one of those actors that uses his considerable talents in roles both big and small.

There are a couple of notable actresses who have small roles in the film. Laura Linney appears in only her second film as Randi, President Mitchell’s lover, and Bonnie Hunt appears as a White House Tour Guide in only her third film appearance. Both would go on to bigger and better roles, but still have a screen presence in this one.

One of the interesting aspects of the film is seeing the political pundits playing themselves, including John McLaughlin, Eleanor Clift, Chris Matthews, Freddy "the Beadle" Barnes, Larry King, Nina Totenberg, Sander Vanocur and Michael Kinsley. Their presence lends a certain realism to the proceedings without distracting from the humor of Dave. In fact, seeing them debate the changes in President Mitchell is part of the joke, so to speak.

Let yourself believe the premise and you’re in for a fun time. While politics is at the basis of the movie, there is not so much of it that you really have to understand too much to enjoy Dave. Funny with just enough romance sprinkled in; this is a movie I would definitely recommend.

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