A sly and sparky twist on the age old tale of ‘The Prince And The Pauper’, “Dave” delivers a delightfully upbeat moral fable as a corrupt and callous leader is replaced by ‘an ordinary joe’.
When President Bill Mitchell (Kevin Kline) arranges for a duplicate to make a public appearance to cover up for an affair he’s having with a White House staffer, the White House Chief Of Staff Bob Alexander (Frank Langella) recruits Dave Kovik (also Kevin Kline), a local employment consultant who has a side-line as a presidential lookalike. Unfortunately, Mitchell suffers a serious stroke while on the job so to speak so Dave is compelled to take over the role of President full time while Bob Alexander plans his assent to power. But once he meets the First Lady (Sigourney Weaver), Dave starts to set out a Presidential agenda of his own.
The idea at the core of this movie is, of course, absurd – no matter how appealing it may seem in the next few days and weeks. The idea of the most powerful man in the world being replaced by a doppelgänger may strain credibility but thanks to Ivan Reitman’s deft comic sensibilities, a witty script from Gary Ross and a sublime performance from Kevin Kline, the whole thing works fantastically well.
Kline is tremendous fun in a triple role of sleazy President Mitchell, good guy Dave and Dave-as-Mitchell, all three of them distinct yet similar enough to sell the film’s central conceit. Langella is all brooding menace and mendacity as the scheming Chief Of Staff (his growling delivery of the line ‘He’s not the president, he’s an ordinary person. I could kill an ordinary person’ is worth the price of admission alone), balanced by the amiability of Kevin Dunn as White House Communications Director Alan Reed who is railroaded into going along with the charade for the sake of the Presidency. Also in on the scam is a very young Ving Rhames as Secret Service Agent Duane Stevenson. Kept out of the loop are the President’s estranged wife Ellen Mitchell and the Vice President played by Ben Kingsley. Although Kingsley’s role is almost incidental, he always classes up the joint.
Kline and Weaver quickly establish a great comic chemistry and as Ellen opens Dave’s eyes to the injustices and influences of the presidency, it’s her compassion and his inherent decency and niceness which become the most powerful levers of government in a frothy, fantasy wish fulfilment agenda which nevertheless manages to make some serious and salient points about government and society as a whole.
Adding to the general jollity is the parade of real-life political figures and celebrities playing themselves in the movie, crowned by an appearance by noted conspiracy enthusiast Oliver Stone trying to convince Larry King that the President has been replaced by a duplicate.
The film’s ultimate rallying cry of full employment lacks a little narrative development and feels a little arbitrary given the rest of the film’s antics and although it feels loosely connected to Dave’s previous job as an employment officer, it strays a little too close to socialist dogma for it to seem credible as a new American Dream.
Nevertheless, “Dave” is a wonderfully light and witty look at White House politics, a neat metatextual parable for Hollywood mentally adjusting itself to the end of the Bush presidency and the promise of the Clinton administration and a perfect pick-me-up if the days ahead have you filled with foreboding.