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From Hell.com


by Alex Kirschenbaum Feb 27, 2022

Fair warning: the phrase “Capra-esque” might get a real workout in the ensuing review.

Late great comedy director Ivan Reitman’s inventive political comedy Dave (1993), starring Kevin Kline in a dual role as both a sleazy president and his kindhearted regular-guy doppelgänger, stands as a shining beacon of sunny cinematic optimism from a happier time in this country’s history.

Frank Capra, that beloved helmer of movies focused on underdog triumphs during Hollywood’s Golden Age, emerges as a clear influence guiding Reitman through Dave, with a winning script from eventual Pleasantville director Gary Ross. The picture also leans heavily on Mark Twain’s The Prince and The Pauper, in that a regular guy who happens to look a lot like a current political leader is enlisted to switch places with said leader. This time, it’s temp agency owner Dave Kovic (Kline), hired to cover for corrupt and cruel U.S. president Bill Mitchell (Kline again) at a public function so that the Commander-in-Chief can enjoy a hotel tryst with his “patriotic secretary” Randi (Laura Linney).

When President Mitchell suffers a severe stroke that leaves him comatose, Chief of Staff Bob Alexander (Frank Langella) and loyal Communications Director Alan Reed (Kevin Dunn) decide to keep Dave on as an indefinite substitute for Mitchell rather than tell the world the truth and allow “boy scout” VP Gary Nance (Ben Kingsley) to accept the presidency. “He’s mine, I built him,” Bob glowers with regards to Mitchell.

Bob and Alan’s dastardly plot: implicate Nance in a thrift scandal and compel him to resign from his office in disgrace (this movie makes us long for the days when elected leaders could actually be counted on to resign in disgrace when implicated in scandals), clearing the way for Dave-as-Mitchell to make Bob the new VP, then pretend to suffer a new, worse stroke, allowing the power-mad Bob to assume the presidency.

Invariably, they are thrown for a loop when Dave turns out to be not just competent as a Mitchell replacement, but actually significantly better at the gig! As Mitchell, he quickly begins to curry public favor, saving homeless shelters, reducing the deficit and introducing a bold new jobs program not seen since the days of FDR. When Dave teams up with First Lady Ellen Mitchell (Sigourney Weaver), who had an icy relationship with Mitchell as a result of his many extramarital dalliances, they eventually conspire to ice Bob out. Complications invariably ensue. A romance blooms between Ellen and the guy who looks just like her husband but is actually a good person.

Dave is also abetted in his endeavors to improve the country and avoid the pitfalls of the office (and his own administration) by Mitchell’s top secret service bodyguard Duane Stevensen (Ving Rhames) and Dave’s best friend, accountant Murray Blum (Charles Grodin).

This (ahem) Capra-esque adventure does a terrific job of capturing the political machine as it was in the early 1990s, though the notion that one decent human can affect significant positive change in office without compromising any of their values sure plays as fantasy today.

Reitman’s entire cast tackles Ross’s script with dexterity. Kline handles both distinctive roles with a deft touch, without ever winking at us or sinking into overt comic mugging. Weaver is terrific as an idealist who slowly regains her faith in romance and in making a difference in the world through her blossoming relationship with Dave. The Rhames-Kline friendship creeps up on us, but there is an exchange shared between the dynamic duo near the film’s finale that is almost guaranteed to make you tear up. Grodin goes full Grodin, as is his wont.

Langella sure seems to be be very much channeling Dick Cheney with his delightfully scenery-chewing turn as the duplicitous viper Bob Alexander. A recent Rewatchables podcast episode from The Ringer astutely pointed this out, and I can’t stop seeing it now. Though not yet a puppet-master 46th VP in 1993, Cheney had already been on the political scene for a while, and had served as Gerald Ford’s Chief of Staff in the 1970s and George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense in the early 1990s.

Reitman, who passed away earlier this month at age 75, enjoyed a decades-long career as a master comedy craftsman, working as a producer before transitioning to directing and occasionally writing his own projects. As a director, Reitman is perhaps best remembered for his various collaborations with Bill Murray, including Meatballs (1979), Stripes (1981), and three of the Ghostbusters films. Reitman helmed the first two supernatural blockbusters and produced the fourth (directed by his son Jason), terrifically wry horror-comedy mashups all. Reitman also directed a triumvirate of very broad Arnold Schwarzenegger hits in Twins (1988), Kindergarten Cop (1990) and Junior (1994). Arnie also makes a brief cameo, playing himself, in Dave.

Would you look at that? I didn’t even say “Capra-esque” that much!