Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Dave: Ivan Reitman’s optimistic view of the American political system

This Election Day special was written by Gilby37.

A good friend of mine is a huge fan of Kevin Kline. If she wasn’t, I'm not sure I would have gone to see Dave in 1993. It was a clever comedy directed by Ivan Reitman, the director of Ghostbusters. The movie’s premise was very interesting. What would happen if the President of the United States was incapacitated and his chief of staff decided to seize power using a lookalike?

This improbable scenario was played out quite believably in Dave. In the movie, President Bill Mitchell is making an appearance at a political dinner and decides he will have “dessert” upstairs with a young female staff member. His chief of staff hires Dave Kovic (Kevin Kline), the owner of a small employment agency, to be the President’s double so he will be seen exiting the event. Meanwhile, the real President Mitchell is otherwise occupied with his lady friend. Then it happens, President Mitchell has a stroke while having sex with his female companion. His conniving chief of staff, Bob Alexander (Frank Langella), seizes the opportunity to become President of the United States. He brings Dave back to the White House where he and Alan Reed (Kevin Dunne), the Director of Public Relations for the White House, convince him to “play” President Mitchell for the good of the country. When Dave inquires about the Vice President (Ben Kingsley), he is told that the man is mentally unbalanced. Therefore, it will be better for the country if Dave simply does what Bob tells him to do. Reluctantly, Dave agrees and tells his friends and co-workers he is finally taking a much needed vacation. Meanwhile, the Vice President is sent away on some diplomatic missions.

What happens next is truly inspiring. As “President Mitchell”, Dave brings enthusiasm to the office. He makes public appearances and connects with people in a way the real President never did. In fact, the press assumes he is a new man after his “minor stroke.” In addition, Dave winds up winning the friendship and admiration of the First Lady (Sigourney Weaver). Initially, Dave is not worried about pretending to be her husband. That’s because Ellen Mitchell hates her real husband. Their marriage is one of convenience. She has no use for the fact that he has the libido of Bill Clinton and the ethics of Richard Nixon. The couple does not even share a bedroom. However, Ellen realizes out this man is too decent to be her real husband. After Dave starts initiating some great policies and ignoring Bob Alexander, Ellen decides to play along with the charade.

Unfortunately, Bob Alexander is determined to take Dave down. He is angry that this ordinary man has won the respect and support of every one he meets. Dave even wins over the President’s bodyguard, Duane Stevenson (Ving Rhames), who resents being assigned to guard an impostor. Duane later tells Dave that he’d take a bullet for him. Even Alan Reed, Bob’s original co-conspirator, begins to stand up to Bob and side with Dave. This leads to Alexander playing the ultimate “dirty politics.”

Bob Alexander has been planting stories about Vice President Nance being corrupt so that he can get rid of him. Dave learns of this smear campaign and the fact that the “real” Bill Mitchell is in fact the one who’s corrupt. It leads Dave to fire Alexander. Bob Alexander decides that “President Mitchell” is going down too. Alexander then leaks Mitchell’s wrongdoings to the press. At the same time, Bob Alexander plans to announce he will be running for President of the United States.

How does this all end? Well, I don’t want to give away the truly uplifting ending. Suffice it to say that Dave finds a way to clear the Vice President’s name and make sure that Bob Alexander gets what is coming to him. The movie leaves the viewer believing that one man truly can make a difference in our political system. The fact that Dave, the “every man”, can propose a national jobs creation initiative and win support for this cause illustrates the ideal scenario for how our government could work.

The film is filled with some great performances and “guest stars.” Look for numerous cameos by famous politicians, celebrities, and White House reporters from that era. You will see Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, Senator Alan Simpson, Larry King, Helen Thomas, and Arnold Schwarzenegger playing themselves. Perhaps the best cameo was by Oliver Stone. There is a scene where he is trying to convince Larry King that there is a conspiracy and that the President is not the same man he was before. It was a wonderful touch as Stone has been accused so often of promoting conspiracy theories in his films. Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver are in top comedic form as the “sort-of” first couple. However, it is Frank Langella who nearly steals the movie as the corrupt Bob Alexander. Langella is arguably one of the best stage actors of his generation, but rarely gets a movie part worthy of his talent. Luckily, Langella was given the chance to shine in this great part.

Every so often Hollywood gives us that glimpse into the U.S. government at its best. In 1939, Frank Capra gave us Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It gave us James Stewart as a young senator fighting for the common man’s integrity. In 1993, Ivan Reitman gave us Kevin Kline advocating for common sense in our nation’s highest office. One of these days, the people in Washington D.C. might catch up.


  1. Gilby, this was an excellent choice for Election Day! I've alwayed enjoyed this movie--not only for its upbeat message, but also for the wonderful chemistry between Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver. You're right in that Frank Langella hasn't gotten a lot of good film roles, though he had great parts in THOSE LIPS, THOSE EYES and FROST/NIXON. My wife and I saw him on Broadway in HURLY BURLY in the 1980s; we didn't care for the play, but Frank was good.

  2. I was like you, Gilby, in not wanting to see the movie when it came out. Just didn't seem to appeal to me. Your description changes my mind. I like all the actors, but especially Frank Langella. I fell madly in love with him in 1979's Dracula, and after I regained my senses, I started seeing him in other things and believe he is a wonderful actor. Dave would be worth seeing just to watch Langella steal the show. Great review!

  3. Gilby, Awesome review... I don't think I have seen this movie.. I do know, Kevin Kline doesn't know how to give a bad performance.

  4. Great performances all around, and I especially liked Ving Rhames. Without giving away the ending, he says something to Dave near the end that I always loved. Great review, Gilby!

  5. I agree with Dawn, Kevin Kline is always good even if the movie isn't. In addition, Frank Langella is my FAVORITE stage actor.I have seen him in Fortune's Fool, Cyrano DeBergerac, and Present Laughter. And yes I did wait to get an autograph and glimpse of the man after I went to see Present Laughter. He is a nice & classy guy!

  6. "Dave" is an interesting variation of "The Prisoner of Zenda." I liked it very much, especially because of Kevin Kline. This is an excellent selection for a Feel Good Movie, Gilby, and I really enjoyed your write-up!