Unbelievably enough, the initial theatrical release of Dave was accompanied by boastful claims that here was a cheeky, satirical, subversive film about American politics – complete with brazen, real-life cameos from key government and news media players.
Nothing could be further from the truth, since Dave is a fairy floss fantasy that makes even Frank Capra's Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939) look like a politically sophisticated tract.
The Capra reference is not lost on director Ivan Reitman (Twins ) or writer Gary Ross. Like Jimmy Stewart, Dave (Kevin Kline) is a good-hearted innocent, willing and ready to take the place of a stricken President the moment that government representatives approach him. As the great man's secret look-alike, Dave is suddenly dropped into both the public and private spheres of a none-too-innocent life.
When corruption starts to reveal itself, Dave naturally marshals his immense personal integrity and tries to make a difference. Fortunately for Dave, social evil seems to be condensed in a single bad guy, Chief of Staff Bob (Frank Langella), and nation-shaking political decisions are able to be made across a table openly and freely, with TV cameras present. Just like in reality.
Actually, it is not a bad film. Reitman has enough skill to keep us from dwelling on the plot's many improbabilities, and enough sense to inject a peculiarly modern note of cynicism into proceedings. He has less success making a fully believable character out of Dave (although Kline's performance is excellent), or creating any vital, romantic spark between Dave and First Lady Ellen (Sigourney Weaver).
But Dave is still a diverting and intriguing piece of wishful fiction.
© Adrian Martin May 1994