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By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 07, 1993


Ivan Reitman
Kevin Kline;
Sigourney Weaver;
Frank Langella;
Kevin Dunn;
Ving Rhames;
Ben Kingsley;
Charles Grodin;
Arnold Schwarzenegger;
Jay Leno;
Oliver Stone
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent

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Don't go into "Dave" expecting a comic knee-slapper. That's the wrong part of the anatomy. As the schmoozy Hollywood insiders say in "The Player," the movie's got heart. A romantic comedy set in political Washington, it's an updated Capra fantasy that goes for the sweet rather than the tart.

Don't expect a knowing, Potomac Feverish satire either. Despite intrigue in the Oval Office, and an inside-the-Beltway cast of presidents, White House staffers, Cabinet officers and Secret Service bodyguards, "Dave" stays surprisingly apolitical. The movie is simply about Dave (Kevin Kline), a really nice guy who -- after topsy-turvy circumstances throw him into the presidency -- turns into an even nicer guy.

The bottom line is, "Dave"-the-movie will hit the warm, gushy spot for a lot of people. With Kline's likable presence (without a trace of the nasty Otto from "A Fish Called Wanda" to be found), the movie's very pleasant to sit through. That harmonic convergence -- when story and comedy ring beautifully together -- never quite happens. It's a good time but not an unforgettable time.

Dave is a lowercase hero, one of those thousand points of light. Head of a humble, temporary-employment agency in Baltimore (actually filmed in the heart of high-rent Georgetown), he thrives on finding work for the unemployed. He also happens to be a dead ringer for President William Harrison Mitchell -- a likeness he capitalizes on at parties and ribbon-cutting ceremonies.

He gets the job of his life when the real president's people snap him up on short notice for a look-alike public appearance. It turns out President Harrison -- whose relationship with First Lady Sigourney Weaver is long dead -- is using Dave as a beard. But when Harrison's sexual excesses get the better of him, Dave's one-time job becomes more open-ended.

Suddenly, he's hauled into the White House long term -- in order to save the country from panic. Coached by scheming chief of staff Frank Langella and communications director Ving Rhames, he learns the ropes fast, from goodwill appearances at factories to meetings with the Cabinet. The real acid test comes when he faces presidential wife Weaver.

He discovers that Weaver despises her husband, but has set aside her repugnance for the greater good of her charitable work. He also realizes Langella has a murky political agenda. Here's where the feel-good spirit really kicks in: Dave has to stop listening to Langella and make the right alliances in the White House. There's a nation to govern right -- and not much movie time to do it in.

"Dave" towers above Hollywood's recent, infantile incursions into Washington ("The Distinguished Gentleman" and "Born Yesterday"). There are wonderful, all-too-short appearances by the great Charles Grodin (as Dave's accountant-buddy, who eventually drafts the nation's new budget plan) and Ben Kingsley (as the vice president). There's also much insider fun in seeing Fourth Estate faces, from John McLaughlin to Nina Totenberg, and from Robert Novak to Helen Thomas, deadpannishly playing themselves.

But in its latter sections, as President Dave gets morally loftier, you may find yourself missing Richard Nixon. There's no 5 o'clock shadow in this movie, that leedle bit of conflict -- you know, funny business. Rather than an outright comedy that doubles as a good story, "Dave" is a low-boiling, good-guy fable with funny elements. In that difference comes the disappointment.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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