Directed by Andrew Fleming. Starring Michelle Williams, Kirsten Dunst, Dan Hedaya, Will Ferrell, Jim Breuer, Dave Foley, Teri Garr, Bruce McCulloch, Harry Shearer, Saul Rubinek, G.D. Spradlin, Devon Gummersall. (1999, PG-13, 95 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 6, 1999
Cinematic revisionist history has already been sparingly applied to the Nixon years in the form of Oliver Stone's pedantic Nixon, but Fleming (The Craft, Threesome) goes for a broadside in this comic tale of the final days of America's least-loved president. In many ways this is a more inspired take on the man and his failures than Stone's, though both pale considerably when placed beside G.B. Trudeau's Pulitzer Prize-winning series of Doonesbury strips that ran during the actual Watergate scandal. Fleming, working from a script co-written with Sheryl Longin, utilizes a pair of bubbleheaded teenage girls -- Arlene (Williams) and Betty (Dunst) -- as his entrée into the debacle. Arlene lives with her single mom (Garr, looking tired throughout) in a Watergate complex apartment, where one night the pair literally stumble upon G. Gordon Liddy (Shearer) and the Watergate plumbers breaking into the DNC headquarters. Nonplused, the girls follow the emerging story with lackluster interest until a convoluted series of events leads them to President Nixon (Hedaya, in full ham on wry mode), who promptly appoints them as the official guardians of White House mutt Checkers in order to keep a lid on things. Even a CREEP (Committee to RE-Elect the President) slush-fund memo that ends up in their possession fails to trigger the girls' suspicions, and it's not until very late in the film that the duo finally scheme to bring the Nixon administration down. Up until then, there's an exhausting series of dog-doo jokes, pot brownie gags (they unknowingly give one to the President and he immediately begins withdrawing troops from Vietnam), and cluttered Seventies humor. The real humor arises not from the girls, but from Nixon's White House, populated as it is by a plethora of wheedling comedians (much as it was in real life, one must suppose) including News Radio's Dave Foley as White House Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman, SNL regular Breuer as the stymied John Dean, and Rubinek as the perpetually thwarted Henry Kissinger. Orbiting around Hedaya's spastic, paranoiac Nixon, the White House scenes are a marvel of jowly comedy, though that only works when they're onscreen and the girls are off. Even better are Ferrell and McCulloch's portrayal of Washington Post scribes Woodward and Bernstein, who engage in near-marital spats of reportage while McCulloch's not-so-pretty boy Bernstein dreamily flips his hair and childishly ogles everything in sight. It's a sublime bit of physical comedy from one of the better members of the now-defunct Canadian comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall, but sadly it's not enough to keep Dick from ultimately becoming a plodding, occasionally sanctimonious, run-of-the-mill comedy (which, in light of later events, is a pretty fair description of the Nixon administration, come to think of it).