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Dave (1993)

by on 2013/08/19

Dave (1993)

“This guy has had a rebirth. This is a different fella.”

* * * *

Even without being an Ivan Reitman film – which it still is – I’d be glad to revisit Dave for my happy memories of it. And even without those, the cast is pretty compelling: Kevin Dunn, Charles Grodin, Ben Kingsley, Frank Langella, Laura Linney, Ving Rhames, Sigourney Weaver, and a host of cameos including Larry King, Jay Leno, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ben Stein, Oliver Stone – easy contender for best cameo ever – and what seems like most of the actual politicians in office at the time of production.

Did I mention Kevin Kline? No, but here I go. His work here as the title character will surprise anyone who just knows him from A Fish Called Wanda. Both more dour (as President Bill Mitchell) and more idealistic (as Dave Kovic) than you might expect from the lunatic Otto, he juggles dual roles with wonder and weariness as appropriate.

In fact, anyone who’s ever tagged Tom Hanks as the modern successor to Jimmy Stewart really, really needs to see this picture.

As a Prince and the Pauper variant, the story involves America’s commander-in-chief becoming incapacitated. He is secretly replaced by small-time impressionist Dave Kovic, who is expected to serve as little other than a temporary figurehead. However, once he assumes power, he attempts to modify existing policies to achieve more compassionate ends.

Yes it’s oversimplified, relentlessly optimistic, and probably illegal too. Yet it’s rarely jingoistic, insulting, or any less than entertaining. Call it on-the-nose, but this slick-yet-modest production knows when to stop the sweetness getting saccharine. By walking all sorts of lines at all levels, Reitman successfully balances feeling natural with being logical.

His not-so-secret weapon here is the cast. Dunn, Langella, and Weaver are as solid as expected. Grodin, Kingsley, and Rhames are near the top of their games. And Kline can single-handedly turn one scene into a character arc. The suggestions of kleptomania add to his charm and depth.

Throughout the movie a careful line is maintained. Our hero’s flaws are never quite roguish, and they make him accessible. His aspirations, which we also relate to – but too rarely act upon – make him inspirational. As a whole, the feature is crowd-pleasing without crossing into insult. I thought of Dave as a kind of fable, except without the animals . . . unless you count the political animals.

* * * *

PG (Canada) / PG13 (United States)

110 minutes

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