Dan Hedaya, Michelle Williams, and Kirsten Dunst star in DICK, directed by Andrew Fleming for Columbia Pictures.

Dick (1999, Andrew Fleming)

Andrew Fleming’s Dick has an irresistible premise (slow-witted teenage girls take down Nixon, not Woodward and Bernstein), but it turns out not to be enough for a movie. Not even a ninety-four minute movie. Besides inspired casting of Watergate figures (Dave Foley as Haldeman is probably my favorite, but Saul Rubinek’s Kissinger is the best–and Dan Hedaya’s a perfect Nixon), Fleming doesn’t really know what to do with his story. He covers some of the Watergate stuff, but not enough. He dumbs down the revelation of evidence and so on, not really taking advantage of it for his story. Once he’s established Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams in the White House, he does a couple montages and throws in Williams’s positively icky on Nixon, but the movie’s mostly on its way toward the end. Neither Dunst or Williams really have characters–which is fine, given Dick is a farcical comedy–but Fleming doesn’t have ninety-four minutes of story either.

Dick gets long after a while, once the laughing out loud stops–usually whenever Dunst and Williams are in charge of their scenes, instead of Foley, Hedeya, or Rubinek–and I don’t think there’s a single big laugh for the film’s last hour. There’s a good Foley scene, but it’s amusing, not laugh out loud. Given the lousy pacing of that last hour, I wonder if Fleming cut some stuff out to make the movie shorter, but I doubt it. Kirsten Dunst’s character doesn’t have a story, she has a brother. Devon Gummersall, as the brother, is good. Except he’s just a funny pot-head and the film’s better when he’s around because he says funny pot-head stuff. Dunst ranges from awful to bad. She’s worse when she’s alone. Michelle Williams, halfway through, goes from dumb to not-so dumb and she’s fine in the second half. The contrast between her and Dusnt’s acting prowess is stunning. One also gets the feeling Williams heard the word ‘Watergate’ before filming the movie.

We rented Dick because a) we’d just watched All the President’s Men and b) I thought it was funnier. I remembered it being funnier. But it isn’t. The film only makes it through the second half because of Hedeya, Williams, and Will Ferrell and Bruce McCulloch as Woodward and Bernstein (Bernstein’s such a jackass I wonder if Fleming consulted with Nora Ephron). The film also benefits–more than it deserves–from the great use of the 1970s music. The end is–as I remembered while watching it–a real kicker set to Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.”

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Fleming; written by Fleming and Sheryl Longin; director of photography, Alexander Gruszynski; edited by Mia Goldman; music by John Debney; production designer, Barbara Dunphy; produced by Gale Anne Hurd; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Kirsten Dunst (Betsy Jobs), Michelle Williams (Arlene Lorenzo), Jim Breuer (John Dean), Will Ferrell (Bob Woodward), Dave Foley (Bob Haldeman), Teri Garr (Helen Lorenzo), Ana Gasteyer (Rose Mary Woods), Devon Gummersall (Larry Jobs), Dan Hedaya (Dick), Bruce McCulloch (Carl Bernstein), Ted McGinley (Roderick), Ryan Reynolds (Chip), Saul Rubinek (Henry Kissinger), Harry Shearer (G. Gordon Liddy), Len Doncheff (Leonid I. Brezhnev), G.D. Spradlin (Ben Bradlee) and Checkers (Brunswick).


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