He was tricky. They were better.
Who knew that a movie about Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal could be so darn funny?
I saw a lot of movies during the summer of 1999, but there were a few that I didn’t quite find time to see in between my five viewings of The Matrix. Dick was one of the ones I missed. I saw the trailers and commercials countless times, and I thought it looked funny, but I was never enticed enough to buy a ticket. It only made $6.2 million at the box office, so I guess few other people were either. Maybe that’s because it’s a movie that doesn’t quite understand its target audience. It stars two teen actresses, so ostensibly it’s a teen comedy. But, it’s about events that took place in 1972, and most teens would not understand the subtle humor involving these people and events. I was born in 1975, and while I do pride myself on being well-versed in history and politics, I mostly know the Watergate era as a punchline and not for the events themselves.
Dick tells a fictionalized account of the Watergate events through the eyes of two ditzy 15-year-old girls, Arlene (Michelle Williams) and Betsy (Kirsten Dunst). Arlene lives in the Watergate Apartments. One night while sneaking out to mail a letter to the Bobby Sherman Fan Club, the duo runs into G. Gordon Liddy (Harry Shearer, Godzilla, numerous voices on The Simpsons) during the infamous break-in. Later they also run into him on a tour of the White House. He recognizes the girls, and they are ushered into the West Wing to find out what they know. There they meet Tricky Dick (Dan Hedaya, The Usual Suspects, Clueless, Alien Resurrection). He clues into their vapidity, and makes them official presidential dog walkers. Of course, this only gives them more access to the White House, and allows them to witness more illegal acts such as the shredding of documents and the taping of incriminating conversations. They meet other White House staffers such as Henry Kissinger (Saul Rubinek, True Romance, Oliver Stone’s Nixon), John Dean (Jim Breuer, TV’s Saturday Night Live, Half Baked), and Bob Haldeman (Dave Foley, A Bug’s Life (voice), Blast From The Past, TV’s Kids In The Hall). Soon (but far slower than, say, a well-trained chimpanzee) the girls realize that Nixon is involved in the illegal activities they are hearing about on television.
As a prank, they call Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman portray the reporters in Oscar-caliber performances…Hold on. The court apologizes for the mix-up. Will Ferrell (SNL, the Austin Powers movies) and Bruce McCulloch (TV’s SNL and Kids In The Hall) portray the reporters in lawsuit-defying style. Woodward and Bernstein take the prank call seriously, and soon meet with the girls. You guessed it…Betsy and Arlene become their anonymous source, Deep Throat, and become responsible for the downfall of the president.
Nothing in the movie is treated with the least bit of seriousness. Betsy and Arlene are more concerned with the welfare of Nixon’s dog, Checkers, than they are with the fate of the nation or the Vietnam War. They bake cookies for the president using walnuts mixed with Betsy’s brother’s marijuana stash. Soon, the entire staff is eating the cookies laced with wacky weed, and even gives them to Leonid Brezhnev. And naturally, no chance is missed to make Dick jokes.
It’s hard to praise two actresses for portraying teenagers devoid of intelligence, but Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams are excellent in their roles. Kirsten Dunst had her breakout role opposite Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in Interview With The Vampire, and has also appeared in Small Soldiers and Jumanji. She plays Betsy as the bubbly, giggly member of the duo. Michelle Williams is perhaps best known for her role on TV’s Dawson’s Creek and for Halloween H2O. You can tell that there is a little more going on in Arlene’s head, and she portrays a bit more emotional depth as the object of her affections switches from teen idol Bobby Sherman to crusty politician Tricky Dick. You can best see the contrast between the best friends in the scene where they tell their classmates of their positions as “Secret Youth Advisors” to Nixon. Arlene is tentative and shy in front of her classmates, while Betsy is enthusiastic and can hardly stay on her topic. Her afro-sporting teacher praises her by saying “I really dug the way you used fantasy, current events, and cooking in a kind of tapestry of storytelling.” The movie is chock-full of lines like that.
You stayed through my praise of the movie, but I’m sure what you came for was to hear about the DVD. Columbia has delivered another quality DVD production. The movie is presented both in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and pan & scan. I noticed no defects in the picture, and that’s saying quite a bit because Dick piles on the tacky, loud ambience of 1970s interior decoration. The only problems I noticed with the picture were problems with the movie itself — look at the shot of the White House 9:03 into the movie. It’s a very obvious matte painting. Extras-wise, the disc provides ample content. There is a commentary track that imparts the “wisdom” of director Andrew Fleming (The Craft) and screenwriter Sheryl Longin (more on the commentary track in the next section). A self-serving making-of featurette, a 12-minute blooper reel, one deleted scene, an isolated music track (the best special feature, in my opinion), cast bios, and trailers for Dick and two other teen-oriented Columbia movies (Can’t Hardly Wait and ugh, Spice World) complete the features.
I generally enjoy commentary tracks, but this one was a real snoozer (quite literally — I fell asleep during most of it). Fleming and Longin don’t seem to have a clue what to say. They mostly sit and laugh at their own jokes or make off-handed comments about the actors. It’s the most completely pointless commentary track this side of listening to Kevin Smith talk about how drunk Jason Mewes was whilst recording the commentary on the Clerks disc.
I honestly did not expect much from Dick. If you go in thinking that it’s a lightweight comedy, you’ll find it a pleasing diversion. If you have any knowledge of the Nixon administration and the Watergate scandal, you’ll find additional amusement with the comedic spin on the personalities and events involved. At a suggested retail price of $24.99, it’s not a bad deal, but if you haven’t seen it I’d recommend it as a rental.