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Thursday, August 5, 1999

Dick's mistakes easy to pardon

Movie: Dick

Posted on Thu, Aug 5, 1999 at 4:00 AM

Our Rating: 3.00

"Dick" is a mean little motion picture, one that digs up a dead leader of the free world and subjects him to childish, clumsy ridicule against which he can't possibly defend himself.

In other words: Count me in! The politico in question is Richard M. Nixon, and any raspberry blown in his direction (no matter how poorly executed) is cause for celebration.

It's strained, all right. The movie revisits Watergate through the eyes of Betsy Jobs (Kirsten Dunst) and Arlene Lorenzo (Michelle Williams), a pair of straight-arrow dunderheads whose class trip to the White House somehow lands them in the center of a criminal conspiracy that's about to shock the world.

Putting Romy and Michelle in Zelig's shoes is about as witty as the film gets. The befuddled girls meet all of the Oval Office's ne'er-do-wells, including Jim Breuer as John Dean, Ana Gasteyer as Rosemary Woods and Dave Foley as H.R. Haldeman -- a cast of underperforming clowns who equal the real Nixon administration.

The corruption is lost on Betsy and Arlene, who consider their new pal Dick a nice old guy with a cool job. Arlene even develops a schoolgirl crush on the crusty codger.

The honeymoon ends when the duo discovers an illicit recording proving that their president hates Jews, swears like a longshoreman and kicks his dog. Oh, and that he's behind the Watergate cover-up, whatever that means.

Making Nixon himself a central character is a mistake. The story would be funnier had he remained a shadowy presence, floating on the edges of the action like a used-car salesman about to pounce on a customer. Still, Dan Hedaya decently replicates the tight-sphinctered monster's social awkwardness. When he's conducting an impromptu White House tour, "Nice painting of a bowl" is his idea of a charming ad lib.

Though its legitimate punchlines can be counted on one hand, seeing "Dick" is a matter of principle. If you're old enough to remember Watergate, you'll send a message that you haven't succumbed to the temptation to forgive and forget. If you're younger, this may be your last chance to view the Beast laid bare before history rewrites him into some sort of tragic figure. Just don't wait for the tapes to come out.


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