Tuesday 1 March 2022

Movie Review: Dave (1993)

A mild comedy and low-key romance, Dave carries old-fashioned sweetness into the tale of a do-gooder who stumbles his way into presidential power.

United States President William Mitchell (Kevin Kline) is a heartless womanizer, and his marriage to Ellen (Sigourney Weaver) is a sham. His closest aides are Chief of Staff Bob Alexander (Frank Langella) and Communications Director Alan Reed (Kevin Dunn).

The good-hearted Dave Kovic (also Kline) works at a small-town temporary employment agency, and in his spare time impersonates the President at local events. Secret Service agent Duane Stevensen (Ving Rhames) spots Dave as a useful stand-in and recruits him for a walk-on appearance. 

When Mitchell is incapacitated by a stroke mid-coitus, Alexander identifies an opportunity to grab power by installing the impersonator as a puppet President. The naive Dave is duped into going along with the plan, and within a few weeks he improves the White House's public image through displays of humanity. But Dave then takes an interest in Ellen and starts to impose his views on policy decisions, undermining Alexander's agenda.

A liberal-leaning gentle satire of political machinations, Dave aims for comfortable smiles and simplifies the presidency to an almost dull routine of inconsequential appearances and bureaucratic meetings. Writer Gary Ross and director Ivan Reitman wander down the "if only a good man..." route, and emerge with a harmless - and toothless - tale of doing good by playing with a lonely kid and spending money on homeless shelters. 

Almost everything about Dave lands in the middle of the road. Alexander is the closest thing to a villain, but the worst he can come up with is a veto of a barely defined bill, and later abstract accusations of wrong-doing. The marital tension within the White House is defined by silence, and melts away on cue. The subsequent romance between Dave and Ellen barely warms the temperature to tepid levels.

Through it all Dave plays the out-of-place pragmatist getting to grips with his new surroundings and quick to cut through the nonsense of politics and towards doing the right thing. Kevin Kline spends most of the film in amiable mode as Dave, although the much shorter President Mitchell role offers better opportunities for venom. The cast also includes Laura Linney as an office assistant and the object of Mitchell's lust, Charles Grodin as an accountant and Dave's friend who helps balance the US budget in one night, and Ben Kingsley as the absent-until-the-third-act Vice President.

While the plot ambles along in an inconsequentially dreamy state, the sets look real. Reitman comfortably navigates replicas of White House exteriors and interiors (including the Oval Office) to create the illusion of location filming. 

A tolerable distraction, Dave reduces the presidency to a frivolous job, and treats it with fluffy innocence.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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