"A Rave for Dave"
by gayla mills
Dave is a comedy that pleases everyone--it's got great lines, wonderful acting, and an up-beat message. The film is also filled with cameos by dozens of real politicians and journalists who play themselves in clever self-parodies.
The premise is simple. Dave Kovics (Kevin Kline) is an ordinary fellow who is not only the spitting image of President Mitchell (also played by Kline), but who also does great presidential imitations. Dave is hired by the Secret Service to double for the president in a "dangerous" situation--the president is in danger of being caught trysting with his adoring secretary. Unfortunately for the secretary, the prez suffers a stroke in her arms.
The Evil chief of staff (Frank Langella), the real power behind the throne, undertakes to establish Dave as a puppet president. It doesn't take much to convince Dave it's his patriotic duty to help maintain the stability in the country. And so a new president is born.
Dave has a hard enough time learning about the different branches of government and who his cabinet members are; he also has to convince the first lady (Sigourney Weaver) that he's Mitchell. This isn't supposed to be difficult, since they haven't had relations in quite some time and are hardly on speaking terms. Yet women are so intuitive, aren't they? Somehow the first lady figures out this charming, vigorous idealist isn't the somber son of a bitch she'd grown to despise through the years.
Kline makes this movie. He's got that boyish energy and charm that has always made his characters so likable (especially in Sophie's Choice and The Big Chill). He's completely convincing as an Ordinary Guy even while he plays an extraordinary one--hilarious, sensitive, thoughtful, and well-intentioned. His comic touch is inspired, and he makes the most of some good lines.
Other actors have great comic moments too. Charles Grodin is his usual deadpan self, playing an ordinary accountant invited by Dave to the White House to straighten out the budget mess over bratwurst. Cameos by some leading politicians and celebrities are hilarious, including Paul Simon, Tip O'Neill, Alan Simpson, Oliver Stone, Larry King, the Capital Gang, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Maybe the producers picked up a tip from The Player--audiences enjoy seeing celebrities play themselves, blurring the line between fiction and real life.
One reason this film hits home is that it reflects some of the current popular attitudes about politics. It has corrupt politicians only out for their own gain; a government bureaucracy designed to hinder rather than help the common man; and a newcomer to the scene who can run the country despite his complete lack of political experience. That a newcomer could be capable of cleaning up the mess is clearly in vogue right now; Perot's popularity is but the most glaring example.
The movie is a reminder of the recent election in other respects too. Mitchell's presidency recalls the cynicism, opportunism, and fatigue associated with the outgoing administration, just as Dave's fresh-faced idealism reflects Clinton's image of a few months ago. Part of the fantasy of seeing the Clinton people come into power was imagining all those bright young people with idealism, energy, and naiveté entering the rooms of power. One could imagine their excited faces as they realized this was it.
With Dave we can see that fantasy unfold. When Dave first picks up the phone in his White House bedroom, he almost drops the receiver when greeted with a swift, "Yes, Mr. President?" We see Dave's shock and pleasure as he realizes just how much power he has--personal secretaries, cooks, and security guards answering his every need; crowds hanging on his every word and gesture; and politicians and journalists swayed by his every decision.
Like Clinton, Dave is a baby-boomer with dreams of making things right, and the ideas and magnetism to make it work. Yet Hollywood Dave doesn't encounter the setbacks that have worn the shine off Clinton's first days. Dave, for example, needs to come up with a piddling $650 million in one budget to save his pet programs. Not so tough, compared with the $450 billion or so that actually needs trimming in real life. Dave's presidency is a grossly simplified version of the real thing, which is part of what makes it so appealing to the audience. Our only job is to suspend disbelief, and that does keep us busy throughout the film.