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Review by Elias Savada
Posted 6 August 1999

Dick   Directed by Andrew Fleming.

Starring Kirsten Dunst,
Michelle Williams, Jim Breuer,
Will Ferrell, Dave Foley,
Teri Garr, Ana Gasteyer,
Devon Gummersall, Dan Hedaya,
Bruce McCulloch, Ted McGinley,
Ryan Reynolds, Saul Rubinek,
Harry Shearer, and G.D. Spradlin.

Written by Andrew Fleming
and Sheryl Longin

It’s a rousing time when all us die-hard Democrats have Nixon to kick around…again. It was fun back in the ’70s, and it’s even grander now that director and co-writer (with Sheryl Longin) Andrew Fleming takes skewered "pot" shots at the former Commander-in-Chief. See Dick run, straight into subversive, revisionist, uproarious Hell. Heavily populated with Saturday Night Live alumni (Will Ferrell as Bob Woodward, Harry Shearer as G. Gordon Liddy, Ana Gasteyer as Rosemary Woods, Jim Breuer as John Dean), and flavored with the youthful innocence exuded by the two female leads (Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams), you end up with a exhilaratingly funny "what if" blasphemy of the Watergate era.

No, it’s not a SNL/Lorne Michaels production, but instead it’s mega-producer Gale Anne Hurd (the Terminator films, Aliens, Armageddon, and a host of other big event movies) who has remarkably packaged a small feature with blockbuster, low-key humor, destined for cult status and a place on everyone’s DVD shelf (hopefully filled with some of the more scandalous material cut from the theatrical release version). In a career spanning 22 motion pictures, Hurd is allowed a mistake every once in a while, like the dreadful Dead Man on Campus, so it’s nice to see her associated with such a charmingly innocent send-up as Dick. As in Citizen Ruth, no one escapes punishment—right wing morons, leftist liberals, world leaders, the "plumbers," Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, drug-oblivious parents, fellow students, and a spinsterly teacher. Heck, even Checkers, the Presidential pooch, gets kicked around (off screen). The witty screenplay might make you wonder if this implausible twist on reality actually happened, especially if you catch Dick right after having been hypnotized by The Blair Witch Project. It’s brightly lit conspiracy theory redux, all over again. Especially so if you were born after the real bunglery and your only previous knowledge of Washington’s most famous break-in is culled from boring high school instructors and cable re-runs of Nixon and All the President’s Men.

With more than a passing resemblance to Forrest Gump, but in tone closer to The World of Henry Orient, a daffy 1964 Peter Sellers comedy about a concert pianist dogged by two 14-year-old schoolgirls, this refreshing comedy is now factually grounded on one of the most notorious moments that rocked our nation’s history. Dick careens two clueless Hamilton High School students against the power-hungry potentates that ruled our country, matching the girls’ harebrained escapades with all the president’s men in black. Think Romy and Michelle II: The Teenage Years.

Beginning that fateful night when G. Gordon Liddy and his Brylcream-laden henchmen forced their way into Democractic National Headquarters, Watergate resident Arlene Lorenzo (Williams) and her bubbly friend Betsy Jobs (Dunst) are preparing to mail their entry in a "Win-a-Date-With-Bobby Sherman" contest before the midnight deadline. (Note: Please don’t give a mind that there is no way their letter will be collected or postmarked by the postal service at that time of night.) Tiptoeing past Arlene’s ditzy single mom (Teri Garr), the demoiselles tape open a side door (ah, and you thought someone else did this, didn’t you?) before sneaking into history. DickAmusing coincidence is around every illogical corner, starting with Arlene and Betsy’s school visit to the White House the following day and a "chance" meeting with Liddy and ultimately Tricky Dick and the other merry pranksters, with the chief executive, in one of his many inattentive, darkly funny moments, offering them jobs as dog walkers in the hopes of buying their silence. Not that these loquacious youngsters have a hint of the administrative cover-up that is buried in the Executive Office, even after accidentally catching staff members shredding documents and stuffing dollar bills into suitcases, or picking up Liddy’s payoff list stuck to the bottom of his shoe. Eventually the intoxicatingly simple-minded, politically-challenged teens find a tape recorder secreted in Rosemary Woods’ desk and learn the whole dirty story, they manage to convince the president to declare the war in Vietnam over, thaw relations with the Soviet Union, and play a particularly love struck role in explaining what happened to that 18 and a half minute tape gap. And of course we learn who Deep Throat was.

The entire cast demands your applause in filling every role with wacky abandon, be it narcissist, whinny, back-stabbing parodies of Bob Woodward ("The dog ate it? Oh Sweet Jesus! Why did I become a reporter? I went to Yale! I don't need this!") and Carl Bernstein ("This is it. We’ve got Haldeman. And that means Tricky Dick is GOING DOWN!!!!! Play that funky music white boy!!!") by Will Ferrell and Bruce McCulloch. Or Dan Hedaya with a dead-on, deep-set, harried slant on the titular character on the brink of a civic nightmare yet who still has time to watch Love, American Style on the boob tube.

Michelle Williams (Dawson’s Creek, Halloween H2O) hits a wonderful career high, her subdued character’s density flavored with a diminishing naiveté while pining over a misplaced infatuation with the President. This lunacy is highlighted in a fantasy beach sequence, complete with a White House sand castle and accentuated by Barry White on the soundtrack, that has the pasticcio appearance of love-themed television commercials popular at the time. Kirsten Dunst is just as appealing here as she was in Drop Dead Gorgeous (Am I the only critic who adored that film?), as she moves from targeted-for-murder dairy beauty queen to fun-loving capital nitwit serving up home-baked cookies flavored with her dope-smoking brother’s "walnut leaves" to the White House and an especially appreciative security staff. And damned if these ladies don’t sound like Beavis and Butthead when they laugh.

There’s a great soundtrack to flavor the bright purple and pink period clothes of crazed costume designer Deborah Everton and realistic settings of Barbara Dunphy as captured by Alexander Gruszynski’s bare-all camerawork.

Amerika, here comes Dick. Life with dishonor could never be funnier.

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