"DICK" TAKES "All the President's Men" and turns the 1976 drama of presidential corruption on its head. It then flips the Watergate saga back on its keister and gives it a big, fat noogie.
Its farcical, fanciful premise is this: A couple of giggly teenage girls somehow find themselves at the vortex of the early '70s White House scandal and become the confidential source behind Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's Pulitzer-winning investigative journalism.
Fifteen-year-old Arlene (Michelle Williams) and Betsy (Kirsten Dunst) precipitate the discovery of the Democratic National Committee break-in by the Committee to Re-Elect the President when they innocently tape a door open in Arlene's Watergate apartment building in order to meet a "Win a Date with Bobby Sherman" contest deadline.
The rest, as they say, is history . . . not!
The burlesque's slap-happy tone gets set in the prologue, when former Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein (Bruce McCulloch), appearing on a present-day "Larry King Live"-style gabfest, is almost tricked into revealing the identity of the long-secret source known as Deep Throat. One-time investigative partner Bob Woodward (played with exquisite petulance by Will Ferrell) quickly shuts him up and the two begin swatting at each other on the air like a couple of peevish preschoolers.
"Don't touch me," hisses Woodward. "You smell like cabbage."
Such transcendent stupidity, however welcome, is less suitable to a feature film than to sketch comedy (which is what "Dick" wants to be in its heart of hearts). What's more, such nincompoopery is difficult to sustain over the course of an hour and half, although writer-director Andrew Fleming and co-writer Sheryl Longin do their damnedest. Aided and abetted in their effort by a cast of skit-TV regulars, they are only sporadically successful.
In addition to "Saturday Night Live's" Ferrell and "Kids in the Hall" alum McCulloch, other quick-take television veterans include Jim Breuer as White House counsel John Dean, Ana Gasteyer as White House secretary Rose Mary Woods and Harry Shearer as former spook and burglar G. Gordon Liddy, as well as Dave Foley (or rather his hair) as the distinctively brush-cut and butch-waxed Chief of Staff H.R. "Bob" Haldeman. Impersonating President Richard M. "Dick" Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger are look-alikes Dan Hedaya and Saul Rubinek.
You'll snort at these caricatures the way you do (or did) at Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman and Darrell Hammond doing Nixon, Carter, Ford, Bush, Perot, Reagan or Clinton, but it's a laugh of recognition that fades mighty quickly. The Dustin Hoffman-sized McCulloch gets a big yuk every time he flips his rock-star shag wig in that cock-of-the-walk way of Bernstein's, but director Fleming milks the sight gag until it's chapped.
As our adolescent heroines, Williams and Dunst are cinematic ciphers. Blandly pretty, neither one has enough weight or presence to carry the film to any emotional payoff. But then again, they aren't asked to. Their characters are mere pushcarts to slide us from one winking wisecrack of rewritten history to another.
The mysterious 18 1/2-minute gap on the White House tapes? Erased after Arlene used the Oval Office reel-to-reel to record Olivia Newton-John's "I Honestly Love You" when she develops a crush on Tricky Dick. The Nixon-Brezhnev peace accord? Lubricated by the marijuana-laced cookies Betsy bakes for the White House staff (which also explain Nixon's infamous paranoia). Nixon's awkward, two-handed "vee for victory" salute? A peace sign the nerdy politician picked up from his secret youth advisers.
Be advised: Only those old enough to know the difference between Whitewater and Watergate (or those who have seen the multiple-Oscar winning Alan J. Pakula film) will get all this inside-baseball humor, and the Generation Y crowd who merely come to take a gander at "Dawson's Creek" star Williams and "Drop Dead Gorgeous" star Dunst will be left scratching their heads over the parts of the movie that are about, as Betsy's mom says, "a couple of snot-nosed Washington Post reporters who are trying to disgrace the president."
Which is, admit it, a line you've got to love.
DICK (PG-13, 95 minutes) -- Contains a few naughty words and sexual double entendre. Area theaters.