Political satire in disguise
August 12, 1999
By Franklin Harris
This summer may go down as the strangest in movie history. Who last winter would have predicted that "Star Wars: Episode I" would be such a disappointment or that "The Blair Witch Project," an independent film made for under $50,000, would gross over $80 million and become the summer's most talked about hit?
And who would have predicted that the funniest comedy of the season would be a political satire disguised as a teen romp?
You probably haven't heard of "Dick," the aforementioned satire. TriStar Pictures has done almost nothing to promote the film. So, since opening last week, it has earned a paltry $3,392,669.
The film's weak opening isn't surprising. Despite being consistently funny and inventive from beginning to end, it's hard to tell who its target audience is.
I know only that it does appeal to Generation X political junkies who are addicted to 1970s popular culture. But how many of us can there be?
"Dick" stars Kirsten Dunst ("Interview With the Vampire") and Michelle Williams ("Dawson's Creek" and "Halloween H2O") as two 15-year-old girls who unwittingly (and wittingly) expose the Watergate scandal and bring down President Richard Nixon.
At least give TriStar credit for releasing "Dick" on the 25th anniversary of Nixon's resignation.
Arlene Lorenzo (Williams) lives with her mother in the Watergate. Late one night, she and her friend Betsy (Dunst) slip out to mail a fan letter to singer and all-around teen idol Bobby Sherman.
(Incidentally, while researching this column, I found that there is an "official" Bobby Sherman Web site at www.bobbysherman.com. You really can find anything on the Internet.)
In order to get back into the building without alerting Arlene's mother, the two girls tape open a stairwell entrance. In typical movie fashion, a security guard discovers the door and, thinking burglars have broken into the building, calls the police. The police then discover the burglars who, coincidentally, really are breaking into Democratic Party headquarters.
To add even more coincidences to the mix, Arlene and Betsy discover Watergate heavy G. Gordon Liddy ("Saturday Night Live" alum Harry Shearer) lurking on the premises and, on a subsequent class trip to the White House, recognize Liddy as he walks down a hallway, the infamous CREEP list stuck like toilet paper to his shoe.
Now, as a recent poll tells me that only four in 10 people even think they know anything about the Watergate scandal, I better explain that CREEP was the Committee to Re-Elect the President, which paid the Watergate burglars to keep quiet after their arrest.
Unknown to the White House staff, Arlene and Betsy pick up the CREEP list as a souvenir. But President Nixon (memorably portrayed by Dan Hedaya) and his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman (NewsRadio's Dave Foley), decide it best to bribe the girls into silence anyway. So, Arlene and Betsy find themselves named official White House dog walkers, in charge of taking Checkers out to "do his business."
Now in the White House every day, Arlene and Betsy stumble across even more incriminating evidence, causing them to eventually cross paths with Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (Will Ferrell and Bruce McCulloch).
When Woodward and Bernstein enter the picture things really rev up. Ferrell and McCulloch play the reporters as incompetent and self-serving fools. They refuse to identify their source, Deep Throat, because "his" identity (Arlene and Betsy) is too embarrassing.
Along the way, we learn the "truth" of how Deep Throat got his name and how the missing 18½ minutes of audiotape came to be erased.
For teens, "Dick" may be just a comedy, but for those of us who lived through Watergate, Iran-Contra and the Clinton administration, "Dick" is full of lessons and wry humor.
You can only smile at the innocence of the '70s when, while watching Nixon's resignation speech on television, Dunst's character happily says, "They'll never lie to us again."
Yeah. And there is a bridge for sale in Brooklyn.