Directed by Andrew Fleming
Review by Matt Heffernan
Two significant films have been made about the "Watergate" scandal. All the President's Men and Nixon each took their own perspective on the Nixon administration's involvement with the break-in of the now infamous Washington hotel. Both films were serious works by major directors. In 1999, people are less concerned about producing serious works, and all we are left with, is Dick.
Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams star as Betsy and Arlene, two fifteen-year-old girls who live in Washignton. Arlene lives in The Watergate with her single mother, Helen (Teri Garr). She and Arlene write a letter to win a date with Bobby Sherman, for some teeny-bopper magazine contest. They need to sneak out to mail the letter, so they duct tape the latch to the parking garage door. On the way back in, the security guard sees them, and the duct tape, and calls the cops that there is a break-in. On their way upstairs, the girls run into G. Gordon Liddy (Harry Shearer), standing guard during the actual break-in. So now, this is how they got caught.
The next day, the girls go on a field trip to the White House. While there, they see Liddy again. A commotion ensues, and the girls are questioned by Bob Haldeman (Dave Foley). During the questioning, the girls see Nixon (Dan Hedaya) in the next room with his dog, Checkers. The girls call the dog in, and Nixon follows. To keep things quiet, Nixon invites the girls to be the official White House dog-walkers. This gives Betsy and Arlene an incredible amount of access to the president and the Oval Office. With every visit, they find out more and more about their new friend "Dick" and his staff. Eventually, they contact Bob Woodward (Will Ferrel) and Carl Bernstein (Bruce McCulloch) at the Washington Post. Basically, they are "Deep Throat" (that's established in the very first scene, so I'm not spoiling anything).
Political satire is a tricky thing (no pun intended), especially when the events being satirized took place over 25 years ago. There are some incisive moments, but I don't think the 14-year-olds in the audience got the jokes. There were a few older people in the audience laughing with me at the delicious impression of Kissinger by Saul Rubinek. Unfortunately, most of the material doesn't rise above an average skit on Saturday Night Live today. This material keeps down at the TV level by populating the film with several SNL and Kids in the Hall cast members. Not that these actors aren't good, but they remind the audience of their TV experience. The performances of Rubinek and Hedaya help matters to a point, but a lot of the screenplay is pretty flat.
I don't think that Dunst and Williams were given proper direction for their characters. These girls are never believable, shifting wildly between different personalities. There is little difference between the characters, and they could have been consolidated into one girl, but I think they wanted a "buddy" picture.
Basically, this film doesn't really have an audience. The humor is too dated for today's kids, but that is who it is marketed for. It is passable for adults, but doesn't have the edge that a real satire should have.
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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan