While it is sometimes said in shadowy corners, in backalley whispers that Moriarty doesn't know dick, I can assure you that at least as of tonight... Moriarty does in fact know DICK, so just shut your mouth about the dear professor. For tonight, whilst I watched 7 seconds of John Holmes' dick at the Dobie in 3-D, Moriarty was watching a DICK of another sorts in Los Angeles... And here is his final assessment of DICK...
Hey, Head Geek...
I was working late at the Moriarty Labs the other night, trying to devise a way to sneak into a screening of the upcoming Columbia comedy DICK when the studio actually threw a wrench in my plans by doing the unthinkable -- they invited me to see it.
Damn! All my subterfuge, wasted. It almost took the joy out of my drive over to the Sony lot, but by the time my henchmen and I parked under the giant billboards for BIG DADDY, MUPPETS IN SPACE, and DICK, I was in a better mood, ready to laugh.
It's a good thing, too, since DICK is a sly, charming little film with one of the year's most original comic concepts. The press notes for the film describe it as "CLUELESS meets ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN," and I suppose that's a good way to shorthand it, but I honestly didn't expect a picture that was as wise about the Watergate era as this one was. It should be interesting to see if the audience that's the same age as the lead characters tune in to the film's snarky sense of humor and its specific historic references.
The film opens with French Stewart playing a talk show host who is interviewing Bob Woodward (Will Farrell) and Carl Bernstein (Bruce McCulloch) about the identity of the still-mysterious "Deep Throat." In this one scene, director Andy Fleming and his co-writer Sheryl Longin reveal just how much they know about the real Woodward and Bernstein, but they also manage to establish that this is a fantasy fairy tale version of the real world. People are definitely recongnizable, but everything's heightened to great comic effect.
From there, we're right into the meat of the film, as the Jackson 5 standard "ABC" kicks in. I love the use of music in this film, and there were some brilliant choices for individual moments, including the best use of "You're So Vain" that I can imagine. It manages to be both funny and deeply poignant. As the film opens (with a very pointed visual reference to ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN), Arlene (Michelle Williams) and Betsy (Kirsten Dunst) are working together on Arlene's entry to the "Win A Date with Bobby Sherman" contest. They're in Arlene's bedroom at her Watergate apartment, with Mom (Teri Garr) asleep on the couch. The two girls are best friends, and it's a good thing, since neither one of them seems to connect with anyone else. They're both 15, giggly, blissfully unaware of the world around them.
When they finish the letter, they sneak out to mail it, taping open a door so they can sneak back in without waking Arlene's mom. What they don't know is that the Democratic National Committee office is being broken into at that exact moment, and their actions are going to trigger a chain of events that reveals to us, the viewer, an entire alternate history of Watergate that finally explains things like John Dean's resignation, the missing 18 1/2 minutes of tape, and the origin of Nixon's paranoia.
The thing that makes the film really pay off is the outstanding supporting cast. Dan Hedeya is Nixon, and he manages to make the role his own. Dave Foley is wonderful as Haldeman, Saul Rubinek does a wicked Kissinger, Jim Bruer does nice twitchy work as Dean, Harry Shearer is a suitably creepy G. Gordon Liddy, Ana Gasteyer etches a memorable Rosemary Woods in just a few scenes, and Farrell and McCulloch steal every frame of film they're in with their Woodstein performances. There's an image of them walking in slow motion through a newsroom that is worth the price of admission all by itself.
DICK isn't a film that's going to change the world, but it might just change your mind about Andrew Fleming. He's one of those guys who genuinely seems to learn from picture to picture, whose work is getting better and better. His last film, THE CRAFT, was a mildly successful picture with an outstanding collection of hot teenage girls. Fairuza Balk, Robin Tunney, Neve Campbell, and Rachel True in Catholic schoolgirl outfits with evil powers... what more could a mad scientist like me ask?
This time out, though, Fleming's really nailed a lot of the subtle moments, the smaller details. The world of the film is rich, lived in, and feels real. He's using teenage girls again, but the work by both Williams and Dunst goes way beyond the easy stereotypes they could have played. Williams is sweet and funny as Arlene, the dreamier of the two girls. She's the one who falls in love with Dick, convinced that he's a good man. She's also the one who wants revenge when she learns the truth about Tricky Dick. She's got sharp comic chops, and she really shows a bit of range here. This isn't anything like the work she does on DAWSON'S CREEK, and it's a refreshing change of pace for her. If this is any indication of what she's capable of, I hope she makes good use of each of her hiatuses.
Kirsten Dunst, though... oh, boy. I know I'm going to take heat for this. Hell, I fully expect to be beaten senseless in the TALK BACKS below, but I don't care. The Professor has been smitten. As of tonight, Heather Graham is now officially my ex-future wife. The lovely and funny Ms. Dunst has leapt to the top of my list. Pictures have been circulated to all the henchmen, and I don't care who knows it. She's been getting better and better as an actress over the years, even in slight movies like last year's SMALL SOLDIERS. In that film, when she finally starts fighting back and destroying the toys, watch the glee on her face as she cuts loose. When was the last time you saw an actor so engaged by a special effect? Now she's been given a role where she gets to be flat out funny, and she delivers. Between the scene where she distracts someone so Arlene can search Haldeman's house and the film's final images under the closing credits, I have had plenty of Evil thoughts for one night.
For anyone looking for a film that's a little harder to categorize than most, something that engages you brain and your funny bone in equal measures, DICK is an unexpected late summer delight, and well worth seeking out. Maybe I'll get lucky and enjoy myself at LAKE PLACID tomorrow. We'll see. Until then...