Have you ever had a DVD on your “save for later” list on Amazon so long you forgot why you wanted it in the first place? Have you then impulsively bought it when the price was put down by 13p? Have you then watched it, scratching your head, thinking “why did I buy this?” Then the Arnold Schwarzenegger cameo happened and all my questions were answered.
The 1990s were the golden age of the romantic comedy. It’s the decade that gave us Four Weddings and a Funeral, Groundhog Day and Notting Hill, in the era before gross out, when characters could end up in funny situations without encountering so much as an ounce of bodily fluids.
When the President (Kevin Kline) has a stroke and goes into a coma, his ambitious aides find a lookalike called Dave (also Kline, obviously), to put in his place with the intention of manoeuvring Chief of Staff Bob Alexander (Frank Langella) into office. Things don’t go according to plan, however, when the First Lady (Sigourney Weaver) notices a change in the President, who decides to take advantage of his new found power to right some of the wrongs with the world. It’s like if Richard Curtis directed In The Loop.
This is a film with a lot of talent, from its distinguished cast to its James Newton Howard score. Kline and Weaver are fantastic, as are Ving Rhames, Frank Langella and Ben Kinglsey in supporting roles. There are also dozens of cameos, from real life politicians to comedians and TV personalities. Director Reitman is clearly a man with a lot of connections.
For all its light, cuddly niceness typical of the inoffensive comedy of the era, there is some reasonable political satire here, and a plot that manages to be a passable if ridiculous political thriller in its own right. It looks at the tough decisions politicians have to make and whether they could make them better. In one scene, for example, Dave needs $650m to save a programme of homeless shelters. He turns to one of his ministers and asks about a pricey ad campaign being run to promote the American automotive industry. The minister argues for the importance of the programme, to which Dave replies that it’s not as important as protecting homeless children. Remember that scene next time you complain about the UK Film Council being axed.
It’s also perhaps fair to say that Dave does take a somewhat oversimplified view of politics, as it has to for a comedy, but one that may be objectionable nonetheless. The apparent suggestion that all we need to right the wrongs of government is a kind hearted man in office is not an accurate one. It suggests that our politicians could solve major problems relatively easily if they only had the inclination, something which is almost certainly untrue. Therefore any perceived messages should really be taken with a pinch of salt.
Altogether this is a strong political comedy. It’s nowhere near as profound or hard hitting as similar doppelgänger-based political comedy The Great Dictator, nor as funny, but perhaps this is setting the bar too high. It’s better to Sacha Baron Choen’s The Dictator, however, which follows the same basic plot device. Doppelgänger-based political comedies. Now that’s a weird sub genre.
If Richard Curtis was the king of 90s comedy, Ivan Reitman would undoubtedly be its queen, credited with making Arnold Schwarzenegger into a comedy star in Kindergarten Cop, Twins and Junior and not making Sylvester Stallone into a comedy star in Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. In Dave Reitman perfectly captures the warm fuzziness typical of the decade in a thoroughly adorable political rom com.