This may be a first in my six years as a film critic: I'm going to
give the bulk of the credit for a film's success to the casting director.
The film is DICK, a political/historical satire with a sporadically
amusing script and competent enough direction -- in short, the stuff of
fairly average entertainment. If DICK pushes over the edge of
average-ness, it's because the cast dives into the material with such
gusto that the film finds sparks of inspired comedy. Casting director Pam
Dixon Mickelson has stocked DICK with such a wealth of talent that it's
fun just watching them stroll into the shot.
The premise is silly high-concept stuff, centered around two high
school best friends in Washington D.C. circa 1972 -- simple-minded Arlene
Lorenzo (Michelle Williams) and even more simple-minded Betsy Jobs
(Kirsten Dunst). Through exaggerated circumstances, the girls become
witnesses to the break-in at the Watergate Hotel, though they have no idea
what they've seen. Bob Haldeman (Dave Foley), however, isn't so sure, and
thinks it would be a good idea to keep an eye on the girls to determine
what they know. Thus Arlene and Betsy find themselves "official
dog-walkers" for President Nixon (Dan Hedaya) himself, welcomed into the
inner circle at the White House. As the Watergate scandal unfolds, the
girls find themselves involved in virtually every key event, while
generally remaining blissfully unaware that they're making history.
The gag is pretty thin to begin with, and it's not even particularly
original. DICK 's insistence on plopping the two teens into every pivotal
moment of the second Nixon administration turns it into a distaff FORREST
GUMP -- some marijuana-laced brownies lead to fruitful arms-limitation
talks with Brezhnev; a recorded message from the girls turns into an
18-1/2 minute gap; a well-placed scolding leads to the resignation of
John Dean (Jim Breuer); their encounters with Woodward (Will Ferrell) and
Bernstein (Bruce McCulloch) turn them into "Deep Throat." It's all good
for a few knowing chuckles, but once you tune into the pattern, you can
see virtually every joke coming from several minutes away.
What you can't necessarily see coming is the appeal of the
performances. The key players in the administration are all played with
zest by a wonderful comic cast -- Hedaya as a tragically unhip Nixon,
Harry Shearer as a paranoid G. Gordon Liddy, Breuer as the guilt-stricken
John Dean, Saul Rubinek as an insecure Henry Kissinger. More entertaining
still are Ferrell and McCulloch as Woodward and Bernstein, playing the two
reporters as feuding glory hounds with a relationship somewhere between
sibling rivals and closeted lovers. And in the middle of this who's who
of sketch comedy alumni, Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst have
tremendous fun with their ditzy characters. Dunst may be the more
accomplished actress of the two, but it's Williams who gets the juicier
part of a teen who develops a secret crush on Nixon. There's nothing
quite as incongruously funny as Arlene's fantasy of a scowling Dick riding
across a beach on a white stallion.
It would have been nice if Andrew Fleming and Sheryl Longin's script
had found more scenes to match that one for sheer goofiness value. Too
often it gets a bit lazy, opting for yet another historical coulda-been or
one of many comic uses of the name "Dick." DICK hits a few dead spots,
but whenever it starts to lag it gets a jolt from the energetic cast.
Remember the name Pam Dixon Mickelson if you happen to be casting a comedy
any time soon. It's nice to have someone who can gather an all-star team
for the comedic equivalent of slow-pitch softball.
On the Renshaw scale of 0 to 10 Dick jokes: 6.
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