on August 03, 1999 by Francesca Dinglasan
It's 1972 and best friends Arlene (Michelle Williams) and Betsy (Kirsten Dunst) are post-hippie, pre-valley girl teens whose defining characteristics are a mixed bag of both generations (i.e., a proclivity for love beads and a tendency to elongate syllables: "If I don't win that date with Bobby Sherman, I'll just diiiiie"). The inseparable pair keep running into the major players of the Nixon administration, starting when they sneak out of Arlene's Watergate apartment and encounter G. Gordon Liddy (Harry Shearer) during the infamous break-in, and continuing when the girls find their way into the Oval Office during a school field trip to the White House. They unintentionally overhear Nixon (Dan Hedaya) divulge incriminating information during a conversation, and, as a means of distracting the gals, the president appoints them as the official walkers of famed First Dog Checkers.
   Througho ut their frequent visits to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., the two girls are unknowingly made privy to key events of the scandal, from finding a list of Nixon bribes which they naively keep as a souvenir to walking into a room full of administrators frantically shredding documents. It's lucky for the leader of the free world that the girls embody every overused stereotype of the supposedly typical 15-year-old female: boy crazy, super-accessorized and empty-headed. Always oblivious to events happening directly around them, the duo lacks even a shred of the political consciousness that defined the generation; the script only acknowledges the anti-war protest in the form of Betsy and Arlene telling the president in demurred seriousness that "war is really bad." Things go awry for Nixon when the girls, through an umpteenth accident of circumstance, listen to one of his infamous taped sessions, but only clue in to his true nature when they hear him being verbally abusive to poor Checkers. Inflamed by this and by Nixon's anger at them when they confront him, the girls plan revenge by talking to "those Woodward and Bernstein guys" about whom the president has complained.
   The film's promise of originality, evident in a storyline involving Arlene's schoolgirl crush on Nixon (who would have thought?), is overshadowed by the pic's sterile political satire--a device notably underdeveloped in a movie using one of the key points in American modern history as a backdrop. The script offers no new twists on Nixon; the old standby characterization of the president and his cohorts as bumbling idiots is played out to the fullest. Additionally, rehashed '70s cliches, exemplified by an African-American free-love teacher sporting an enormous afro, as well as such easy and obvious targets as heavy-accented Henry Kissinger (Saul Rubinek) being addressed "Hey, German guy!" are, like the Nixon caricature, bits that work well in three-minute skits from "Saturday Night Live" reruns, but not a full-length feature.
   In a market inundated with teen-targeted films, "Dick" is obviously attempting to draw the same crowds during their summer break. However, the film also seems to want to entice older audience members by offering them a trip down memory lane. And while Arlene and Betsy's tight-knit amity and some of their offbeat shenanigans occasionally forgive the fact that they're clueless nitwits, a sense of humor dependent on titillating, double-entendre "Dick" puns seems geared toward the young, not the young-at-heart. Starring Kirsten Dunst, Michelle Williams, Dan Hedaya, Dave Foley, Harry Shearer, Will Ferrell, Bruce McCulloch, Ana Gasteyer, Saul Rubinek and Teri Garr. Directed by Andrew Fleming. Written by Andrew Fleming and Sheryl Longin. Produced by Gale Anne Hurd. A Columbia release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for sexual references and mild language. Running time: 100 min
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