December 06, 2005


Dick tackles the Watergate scandal with the broad yet pointed humour that "The Simpsons" used to be known for. It is therefore not a surprise that one of the chief architects, G. Gordon Liddy, is played with an utterly hilarious moustache by the voice of Montgomery Burns. A casual understanding of the scandal will enhance the humour and make some of the peripheral punch lines hit home. If you've spent even as much time looking into Woodwood and Bernstein's investigation as I have, some of the key scenes fall apart — even ignoring W. Mark Felt coming out as Deep Throat (which one can't fault the film for since it was made first) But it covers the bases nicely, bouncing earnestly from sight gags and drug humour to wicked satire to delightful character sketches.
It's the characters that make Dick work. We follow two fifteen-year-old girls who are dim and seem shallow but prove spirited and resourceful as they soon find themselves wrapped up completely within the unravelling Nixon White House, but we get to see wonderful little asides that they obviously miss. Many of the featured White House staffers appear in both Dick and All the President's Men played in wildly different fashion. But while that straighter take chose to capture the panic in their voices, Dick seems to capture the essence of people in such positions more clearly — with liars and thieves whose calm confident voices say one thing while their wild and darting eyes say something completely different. Dan Hedaya's performance as the President is masterful: after Dick I understood both the qualities that attracted people to Nixon and the qualities that led to his downfall — and how they were often the very same things.
Will Ferrell is better than average here, playing Woodward in the broad strokes one would expect from one of his performances but without the baggage of past successes. In fact, Ferrell is only one of the many guest shots from cult heroes. Dave Foley plays Bob Haldeman like the straight man in the most zany of sitcoms. Watching him as he is confronted with one colossal disaster after the next is a truly hilarious treat. Ana Gasteyer is also fun as Nixon's secretary whose loyalty to the president borders on obsession. Ted McGinley was a casting masterstroke as the operative placed to nail the mother of Michelle Williams's character. The fact that he's Ted McGinley tells us all we need to know about him. Ryan Reynolds pops up in an early role that perfectly sets him up for the huge disaster called Just Friends that was to come. Then there's French Stuart at the beginning as an news interviewer clearly patterned after Larry King. Casting French Stuart as essentially Larry King is a fairly good representation Dick's approach to history.
If this movie were even a hair meaner, it would be a failure. It is not nearly enough for a comedy to make people laugh. It has to make people smile as well. What keeps this one afloat is a good-natured inspection of humanity at its sleaziest. Sure, the events didn't play out like this the first time around, but they might as well have. Watergate, when it comes down to it, is just a case of school children not willing to play fair — played out upon a national stage. Dick remembers that, and mines all of the humour such an understanding entails. ()


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