Februrary 13, 2013

Dave (1993)
Starring Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Frank Langella, and Ving Rhames

Comments:   When I first sat down to come up with this list, one of the things that I wanted to do was spotlight certain actors.  I didn't want to only write about movies that I thought were underloved, some of the time I also wanted to write about actors that I thought were underloved.  Even if the movies they were in weren't always, you know, all that memorable.

Naturally, one of the actors that I wanted to write about the most was Kevin Kline.  Who, ever since I saw him completely own A Fish Called Wanda in 1988, I have always felt was one of the most unheralded comedic actors out there.

Also, he wins because he nailed Phoebe Cates

So I sat down and I thought for a while about which Kevin Kline movies I wanted to write about.  Obviously A Fish Called Wanda is a biggie.  But then again AFCW is not really a movie that is all that underloved (a lot of people still consider it to be the funniest movie of the late 80's).  So if I write about that movie it will probably be much later in the year.  Actually, strike that.  I will -definitely- write about it much later in the year.  For reasons of... well, you will see when we get there.

In any case, besides A Fish Called Wanda, what is another good Kevin Kline movie that showcases how good he is as an actor?  

And after thinking about it for a while, the answer became pretty obvious.  

Well clearly I should write about Dave.

Dave is a cute and inoffensive and completely charming little comedy from 1993.  It is also a movie that pretty much everyone and their mother has already seen, so it's not really as unknown as a lot of my other selections have been.  However, as well known as it is, it is also the type of movie that I bet most people haven't watched in a long time.  It is so innocent and it is so sweet and it is so light that it isn't the type of movie that most people will be impressed with and will immediately run out and buy.  No, I can probably count on one hand all the people I know who actually own a copy of Dave.

If you have never seen it before, Dave is the story of a simple ordinary man named Dave Kovic.  He is a lot like you and me, there isn't anything special or remarkable about him.  He is just a normal guy who runs a job placement agency in Washington D.C. and who rides a bike to work.  That is pretty much it.  Oh and he cares about people and he is kinda nice.  And his hair is slowly turning gray.  That is really about all I can say about him.


Like I said before, there is nothing remarkable about Dave except for one thing.

If you look at his face, he is a dead ringer for the president.  

Through no fault of his own, through nothing he has ever done, or tried to do, through a simple twist of fate he happens to be an exact replica of the man in the White House, President Bill Mitchell.  

President Mitchell

And this is where the movie takes off.

The Secret Service learns about Dave (and the fact that he has a part time job as a President Mitchell Impersonator), and they decide to hire him as one of the President's body doubles.  You know, for security reasons.  And also for White House functions.  Basically they want him to walk around after speeches so that the media will focus on him, and the real President can be quietly whisked away to safety (and a tryst with his secret mistress) in an underground limo.  

At first, Dave (a very humble man) isn't too sure he wants to be a part of something like this.  This is kind of a big deal.  But eventually the President's advisors persuade him.  They pull him aside and they tell him that if he loves America, if he wants to help his country, this is the best way for him to show it.

Well, eventually Dave gives in.  Eventually they guilt trip him into impersonating Bill Mitchell.

And the first time he feels the rush of what it is like to be President, he actually gets a kick out of it.

Dave impersonating the President for the first time

Unfortunately there are two problems with the plan to have Dave impersonate the President.  And both Dave and the advisors run into these problems fairly quickly.

The first problem is that the real President Mitchell is an ass.  He is a grade-A unlikable piece of shit horse's ass.  And everyone hates him.  Heck, even his own wife (Sigourney Weaver) hates him.  And since everyone thinks that Dave is the real president, well naturally now they all hate Dave.  And this is a little bit stressful to a guy who is super nice and who has never made an enemy in his life.  

Dave had no idea that the President was this hated until he walked in his shoes.  

The First Lady telling Dave he is a piece of shit

Oh, and the second little problem?

Well on his romantic vacation getaway with his mistress, President Bill Mitchell has a heart attack and dies.  Right in the middle of having sex with her.  And naturally, since A) no one in America knew that the President even had a mistress, and B) since everyone in America thinks that Dave is the President and he is sitting there happily in the White House, the advisors realize that they now have a bit of a problem on their hands.  

On the spur of the moment, they decide that they are going to have to pass Dave off as the President for a little while longer.  At least, long enough until they can decide how they are going to spin this story.

Dave getting an emergency crash course on how the government works

Simply put, Dave is the story of an ordinary man who becomes President for a day, and then it turns out to be real.  One day he is just pretending to be President, and then the next day he IS President.  And the only people who know what really happened are Dave himself and his two top advisors.  Everyone else in America (including the First Lady) still thinks he is Bill Mitchell and they all still hate his guts.

The First Lady looking on in disbelief as her husband actually plays with children

Dave is one of those heartwarming little comedies that might not be all that spectacular, but it is almost impossible not to like.  In fact I would be shocked if I get even -one- piece of feedback where somebody says that they hated this movie.  Stuff like The Kentucky Fried Movie, or Open Water, or even Forrest Gump?  I could certainly understand if a person tells me that they didn't like those movies (well okay I don't really understand Forrest Gump hate, but whatever, your conscience.)   But with Dave?  No, this is one of those movies that everyone seems to know.  And everyone seems to like.  In fact, I would rank it right up there along with The Princess Bride and Back to the Future as movies that I don't think it would be even be possible for a person to dislike.

President Dave

However, again, what I am mostly writing about here is Kevin Kline.  Because while a lot of people might like the movie Dave, I don't think a lot of people truly LOVE the movie Dave.  And you should love it, because it features a wonderful double role by the amazing Kevin Kline.  

I wouldn't say that Dave is his all time best performance in a movie ever.  But that is only because he is amazing in EVERY SINGLE MOVIE HE HAS EVER BEEN IN.  And Dave is right up there along with any of his best performances ever.  I mean, it isn't as flashy as Otto in A Fish Called Wanda, but that is like saying that the Mona Lisa isn't as flashy as the Statue of David.  Once you get to that level of craftsmanship it is hard to criticize anything about either one of them.  


In Dave, Kevin Kline gets to play two roles.  He plays everyman Dave Kovic, and he plays douchebag Bill Mitchell.  And both roles are completely believable.  And both roles are completely distinct.  Dave Kovic and Bill Mitchell don't have the slightest thing in common (aside from the face), and that is really tough to do when you are playing two characters.  Even though they look exactly alike, you can tell if Kline is playing Dave or if he is playing the President simply by the way that he walks around and the way that he carries himself.  

Heck, and then later in the movie, you get Kline playing Dave as if Dave was doing an impression of the President.  And that is kind of even a THIRD character he is now playing.  And even THAT character is different.

Kline playing Dave trying to impersonate the President

Simply put, Kevin Kline is an actor who should have won a buttload of awards in his career.  He should just have a room full of them.  But he really doesn't have that.  And I don't know why that is.  Who knows, maybe that is just the way he likes it, maybe he just prefers to stay anonymous.  But he is so good in everything that he has ever done, and Dave is one of his unsung masterpieces.  

This is one of those movies that you should go watch again, and you should watch how good Kevin Kline really is in it.  This time, don't pay attention to the movie, or the storyline, (which is good, don't get me wrong) just pay attention to Kevin Kline.  Watch the subtle little differences he throws in when he is playing Dave, or when he is playing Bill Mitchell, or when he is playing Dave doing an impression of Bill Mitchell.  I'm not sure that Tom Hanks could have even played those roles as effectively as Kevin Kline did.


Like I said before, I am interested in the kind of feedback I am going to get about this entry.  I am expecting a lot of "Dave isn't underloved.  Everyone likes that movie, you must be crazy."  I am also expecting a lot of "Dave is awesome, I love that movie!"  I am not expecting to get a single "Fuck Dave, I hate that movie."  Honestly, if you hate a movie like Dave, I'm not sure what kind of movie you -would- like.  It was specifically designed to be an audience pleaser.  You would have to possess a pretty black heart to hate this movie like this.

However, the feedback I am -most- interested in getting is this one:  "Kevin Kline is amazing."  If I get a lot of feedback like that, well then I will know that this entry was a success.  

Dave is one of those movies that should be loved just because it is "a Kevin Kline movie."  And unfortunately there aren't very many of those.


* My favorite IMDB user reviews about Dave:

Kevin Kline Raises the Film to a New Level - 19 September 2000
"Dave" should have been a pure mess of a movie, but instead it is a highly enjoyable film which has great elements of comedy and drama. Kevin Kline stars as the title character who must impersonate the president of the United States after the real president suffers a massive heart attack which has left him in a coma. "Dave" goes for laughs, but also has a great deal of drama which keeps the audience intrigued throughout. Frank Langella does some of the best work of his career. Sigourney Weaver, Ving Rhames, Charles Grodin, and Ben Kingsley are all perfectly cast in supporting roles. The screenplay is smart and the direction never loses its focus.

One of the best - 31 October 2005
First, I won't lie to you. I think Kevin Kline is one of my favorite actors of all time. Now, that doesn't mean that I instantly love everything he does (*cough*French Kiss*cough*). That said, this film really shows him off as the incredible actor that he is and also deals with a very real topic.

Many people say this film is manipulative, but I don't see it, and I'm usually the first one to roll my eyes at something being overdone. The characters were believable, though Kevin Kline easily outshines the others. Playing someone who you have to convince could be the President of the United States is very, very difficult, yet he does it so flawlessly that you really believe that he is the President -- or could be. One of my favorite movies and I've watched it several times and will watch it again in the future. 10 stars for this one!!

Kevin Kline's Performance Excellently Entertaining - 24 August 2006
I think the most of the comments about this movie are fair. It is naive, improbable and, at times preachy. However, I disagree with any characterization of Kevin Kline's performance as less than great, whether he is portraying President Mitchell, standing in for him officially or doing an improv'. The segment toward the end of the film, when he and Sigourney Weaver are pulled over for the turn violation, and they do their version of "Tomorrow" from "Annie" is absolutely hilarious. This is one of those films that, for some reason or another, I keep going back to watch every so often, mainly because of its entertainment and values orientation. Our President and Congressional Delegations should care more about us than themselves. I'm still waiting, but I haven't seen that happen yet, nor have I seen a movie about the President of Slovenia. When I do I'll be sure to comment on it.

A personal favorite from the 90s. - 23 April 2012
The Prisoner of Zenda. Moon over Parador. The Man in the Iron Mask. A look-alike impersonates a national leader. This idea has been used before. Heck, Robert Heinlein won the Hugo award almost 60 years ago with this old gag in his book Double Star.

But Kevin Kline gives it wide-eyed freshness as a likable nobody who finds himself playing the U.S. president and romancing the first lady. And the audience gets an insider's view of Washington's corridors of power and the schemers who make their living there.

It's a far-fetched piece of whimsy, but the treatment is clever, adult, romantic and sharply satirical and the result is a winning confection of a film with beautiful comedic timing.

A well-intentioned shot of political idealism - 13 July 2012
Ivan Reitman's "Dave" is a movie so idealist and well-meaning that it'll warm the hearts of even the most cynical Americans.

Kevin Kline plays Dave Kovic, a small-town guy with a big heart who runs an employment agency. Dave's also a dead ringer for President Bill Mitchell and finds himself conscripted to stand in for Mitchell after the commander-in-chief suffers a stroke during an extramarital rendezvous. The naive idealist finds himself in an administration entrenched in cronyism and an embittered First Lady (Sigourney Weaver). And it doesn't take long for Washington to notice the changes in the no-longer-a-douche Bill Mitchell, as Dave sets out to use his power to make the country a better place ... while falling in love with Mrs. Mitchell.

"Dave" makes no bones about its politics (which are worn on its sleeve), but ideology in this case is irrelevant. I's a story that puts the non-politician in the shoes of the most powerful position (may as well be a sly nod to Frank Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"). Such an endeavor (especially with the extreme rhetoric of current politics) is nothing short of refreshing.

Which is no doubt helped by the light-hearted romantic comedy nature of the film. Kline is at his most endearing in this role, Weaver her most charming and the supporting cast (Kevin Dunn, Frank Langella, Ving Rhames and Charles Grodin) is incredible.

It's light and fluffy, but utterly likable in every way.

Funny, sweet, and totally totally feel good - 7 January 2013
A hilarious wishful movie about what we really want our president to be. Kevin Kline is perfect in the role--both roles--a little goofy but totally believable. The rest of the cast doesn't much matter. They are decent if never amazing. It's a lightweight movie and to demand much beyond the gags and feel good qualities isn't fair to it.

Does it hold up twenty years after it was made? Oddly, yes. You might not even notice it's a bit outdated on the fringes. Politics in some ways has not changed a bit. And the idea of body doubles for the U.S. President is still in currency (see "Vantage Point" for starters). Of course the notion of a secretive government that might pull of a huge scam isn't far-fetched at all (except of course that you hope it actually is far-fetched outside of Hollywood--see "Wag the Dog" for starters).

There is also the use of lots of real people to bolster the idea that it's real, or could be real. Some are identified (senators and other celebrities from the era) so if you don't recognize them you should at least trust that these people are not actors.

But there are a number (like 20 or 30) of other "real" people playing themselves, including Oliver Stone. In case you don't know him, Stone is being interviewed on Larry King Live (with the real Larry King) and he says that they've studied photos of the "new" president and that it's a conspiracy. This is really one of the many little hilarious lines because Stone, of course, is famous for hatching or nurturing conspiracy theories for his movies. His "JFK" came out just two years earlier.

The other fun one most people will miss (and this dates me) is running into an unidentified Tip O'Neill on the streets. He was the real speaker of the house, and it's a great little three seconds. He dies the following year.

Okay, the movie isn't brilliant. But it never gets stale, and it's well made enough to survive even a curmudgeon without popcorn. It'll make you laugh.

* My favorite trivia about Dave:

* The president's full name in the movie is William Harrison Mitchell.  William Henry Harrison was a real president elected in 1840 and the first president to die in office. The vice president in the movie is named Nance; John Nance Garner was Franklin D. Roosevelt's vice president for two terms, and once derided the job as not being "worth a pitcher of warm piss" (bowdlerized at the time and often misquoted as "spit").

* In one of the press conferences, there's a Clamp Cable Network camera from Gremlins 2: The New Batch, which starred Kevin Kline's wife, Phoebe Cates.

* Kevin Kline got the part after Warren Beatty and Kevin Costner both turned it down.

* Ivan Reitman offered Howard Stern a cameo role as himself but Stern turned it down. Reitman would later produce Stern's film debut, Private Parts.

* When they are swearing Gary Nance as president, they refer to him as the 45th president of the United States. This means that Mitchell would be the 44th. George W. Bush is the 43rd President of the United States. Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States.

* Real life US president at the time Bill Clinton was a big fan of the movie.

* My favorite scene in Dave:

The Oliver Stone/conspiracy scene is a classic.  If you aren't familiar with Oliver Stone, he is the director who made JFK and who is convinced that there has always been a JFK assassination conspiracy.  Well he shows up in Dave as a guest on a talk show, and he shows pictures backing up his argument that President Mitchell has been replaced by a double (which is actually true).  But naturally, since he is Oliver Stone the Conspiracy Nut, no one believes him.   I always thought that was cute.

Dave at the IMDB

Dave at Wikipedia

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