Reviewed by Van T. Tran
Columbia-TriStar, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, fullscreen, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC] & Dolby Surround, subtitles: English, double side-single layer, 28 chapters, rated PG-13, 94 min., $24.95, street date 12/14/99.
Directed by Andrew Fleming. Starring Kirsten Dunst, Michelle Williams, Dan Hedaya, Will Ferrell, Bruce McCulloch, Teri Garr.
Clueless meets All the President's Men in Dick, a comedy from Columbia Pictures and Phoenix Pictures which offers a decidedly different take on the third-rate burglary that turned into a first-rate national scandal.
The year is 1972, and, like most high-school students, Betsy Jobs (Kirsten Dunst) and Arlene Lorenzo (Michelle Williams) just want to have a good time. But when, during a class field trip to the White House, they cluelessly wander into a behind-closed-doors, top-secret shredding session. It's time to both wag the dog, and walk it. Seeking to uncover just how much the witless duo discovered, the Comander-In-Chief, appoints them "Official White House Dog Walker," and it isn't long before the girls go from taking out Checkers, to taking out Tricky Dick, in this fun-raising comedy of historic distortions.
I was but a toddler when Watergate broke, and only through latter years from the media and classroom did I have some knowledges what the scandal was about. Even today, many questions surrounding the scandal left unanswered, especially when investigate reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post still refuse to identify the informant that provided the damaging evidences. For co-writer and director Andrew Fleming, the unidentified source is a premise to concoct a far out and hilarious chain of events caused by two clueless teenage girls that lead to the impreachment of Nixon in Dick.
The first half is the best part of the movie, as best friends, Betsy and Arlene, met with President Nixon and his advisors, and given unlimited access to the White House as the "Official White House Dog Walker." The filmmakers use this as the oppurtunity to lampoon much of the White House staff. The more you know about the circumstances and the historical background of Nixon and his advisors, the funnier the jokes get. Granted, the jokes aren't exactly bitting satire or even very witty, but they work on a juvenile sort of way.
During this time, Arlene developes a terribly big crush on Nixon. She sees him as a strong and compassionate man that loves America and his dog. A funny turn-of-event that seemingly recalls Monica Lewinsky. However, it isn't too long before they uncover the truth through coincidences and blunders. The second half shifts the focus away from the White House to the meetings with Woodward (Will Ferrell) and Bernstein (Bruce McCulloch), as the girls become the informant by the moniker "Deep Throat." At this point, the movie didn't work quite as well for me, mainly because it moves away from the funniest satire involving Nixon.
Overall, I found the premise to be absurdly funny with a strong cast to deliver the jokes. Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst are terrifically together and provide much of the energy and charm of the film. Despite not striking a close physical resemblance to Nixon, Dan Heyada's mannerisms are very believable and comical. The rest of the cast is a stockpile of actors from Saturday Night Lives and Kids in the Hall for some great comic presences. History would state otherwise, but in the hands of director Fleming and his screenwriter, the Watergate scandal provides plenty of big laughs.
The film is presented at the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with anamorphic enhancement on one side, and a pan and scan version on the opposite side. While I always watch the widescreen version, I am glad that Columbia-TriStar provided the options to please us the consumers. There is little fault that I can find with the transfer, which exhibits clean images and minimum digital artifacts. The only quibble I have is that the picture is not as razor-sharp as I would prefer. The oppurtunity to recreate the "Me Generation" of the '70s allowed the designers to use a fun variety of colorful and vibrant costumes, sets, and props. From the funky polyester outfits to roller disco, the display of brightly pastel colors shows up extremely well on the DVD and is quite a treat. Other aspects of the picture, such as flesh tones, shadow details, and contrast are all properly transfered.
Part of the fun of the film is the music soundtrack, which features nine #1 singles from the '70s. Yes, these are the same recycled songs that appeared on most films of the era, but they are still a blast! No matter how many times I listened to ABBA's "Dancing Queen" on films, I just don't get tire of it. Another great usage of the soundtrack is during the resignation of Nixon. As he walked arrogantly from the White House lawn and boarded the Presidential helicoper for the last time, Carly Simon's song "You're So Vain" highlighted the moment. I thought the song captured the moment precisely, and similar themes are used shrewdly throughout the film.
The encoded DD 5.1 soundtrack has a wide frontal soundstage, but is limited for the rear surrounds. Most of the times, only ambient effects are applied with little directionality, but that is fine giving the nature of the film. There is no need for some showy effects, but I think the music could be better exploited for the rears. Or maybe I am just spoiled after listening to the Roy Orbison: Black & White Night DVD. As for dialogue, it is always intelligible.
By looking at the list of supplemental materials, you might think that it is very substantial, as I first thought. But disappointingly, these extras added little value to my enjoyment of the film. The commentary is rather boring as provided by director Fleming and screenwriter Longin. I was not impressed by their laid back attitude, and on a few occassions, you can hear Fleming actually yawned. At least, that was redeemed by the isolated music-only track with highlights. As I was screening the commentary, I would switch back and forth to the music track when a song is played on the background. With the "highlights," the songs are boosted louder than on the movie track. There is only one deleted scene, which shows an ominous dream sequence by Arlene. The "Blooper Reel" lasted 12 minutes and offered only a few laughs. The 5-minute "Making Of" featurette is more fluff than providing any real insights. The standard "Talent Files," production notes, and theatrical trailers round up the bonus. Despite my dissatisfaction with the extras, the movie alone is worth recommending.
Current as of 12/11/99
Official Site--I found the production segment to be very detailed. Other information includes the cast, crew, and soundtrack.
Previous: Lost Horizon | Back to Main Page