Wednesday August 4, 1999
Blame it on Bobby Sherman. What are two 15-year-old girls to do? They've just got to make that midnight deadline for posting an entry into the "Win a Date With Bobby Sherman Contest"--he's their singing idol--so what to do but sneak out, for it already is pretty late in the evening. This means going out the back stairs by the garage under the apartment house where Arlene (Michelle Williams) lives with her mother (Teri Garr), and taping over the lock in the rear door so that she and her friend Betsy (Kirsten Dunst) can get back in the building.
Alas, Arlene's apartment just happens to be in the posh Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., where, you guessed it, an alert security guard, noticing the tape, calls the cops, who come upon the White House "plumbers" intent upon bugging the Democratic National Committee headquarters housed in the building. And this is just the beginning of how two innocent girls in the early '70s come to change the course of history as hilariously outlined in the satirical comedy "Dick."
Give credit to director Andrew Fleming, who made his name with that nifty teen horror flick "The Craft," and his co-writer Sheryl Longin for their touching faith that today's teens have had sufficient education to know what the terms "Deep Throat" and "18 1/2 minutes" or even "Watergate" itself refer to; the core audience they're most likely hoping to connect with are Betsy and Arlene's contemporaries, who today would be hitting 40. Actually, "Dick" is so sharp and funny it should appeal to all ages.
As it happens, Betsy and Arlene are to go on a school tour of the White House, where they recognize G. Gordon Liddy (Harry Shearer) as the same man they encountered briefly as they were making their back-door exit at the Watergate. This chance meeting escalates complications that land them in the presence of President "Dick" Nixon (Dan Hedaya) himself. In his awkward way he charms the girls, making them official White House dog-walkers and later on, his secret youth advisors. They're now unwittingly poised to effect all manner of events, all of which are too inspired and amusing to be revealed here.
At the heart of the film is the transformation of two perfectly normal teenagers, who intuitively sense that the Vietnam War is wrong but who are momentarily charmed by their president, who assures them that he is laying the groundwork for peace as he speaks. Their inadvertent firsthand experiences, however, leave them as disillusioned with Nixon and his administration as the American public would soon be.
Dunst and Williams are a constant delight, making clear that the girls' naivete does not mean that they are in any way stupid. Hedaya is a wonderful Nixon, and while he's spoofing here, this fine, versatile actor arguably would have made a better serious Tricky Dick than Anthony Hopkins did in the Oliver Stone film biography. Fleming's actors have a field day sending up Nixon loyalists, although only the ever-admirable Saul Rubinek actually resembles the man he is playing, Henry Kissinger. Will Ferrell and especially Bruce McCulloch bear little resemblance to the Washington Post's Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, respectively, but they have so much fun sending up the investigative reporters' ferocious ambition it scarcely matters.
Wisely, the filmmakers waste no opportunity to find humor in the fads and styles of the early '70s since younger audiences may find them especially amusing. In any event, production designer Barbara Dunphy and costume designer Deborah Everton have the look of the era nailed down squarely without, thankfully, being heavy-handed or condescending about it--the very qualities Fleming himself avoids. "Dick" leaves you hoping it finds the audience it clearly deserves.
Dick, 1999. PG-13, for sex-related humor, drug content and language. A Columbia Pictures release of a Phoenix Pictures presentation of a Pacific Western production. Director Andrew Fleming. Producer Gale Ann Hurd. Executive producer David Coatsworth. Screenplay by Fleming & Sheryl Longin. Cinematographer Alexander Gruszynski. Editor Mia Goldman. Music John Debney. Costumes Deborah Everton. Production designer Barbara Dunphy. Art director Lucinda Zak. Set designer Nancy Pankiw. Set decorator Donald Elmblad. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. Kirsten Dunst as Betsy Jobs. Michelle Williams as Arlene Lorenzo. Dan Hedaya as President Nixon. Teri Garr as Helen Lorenzo. Saul Rubinek as Henry Kissinger. Dave Foley as H.R. Haldeman. Will Ferrell as Bob Woodward. Bruce McCulloch as Carl Bernstein.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times