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For sparkling hot-weather entertainment, you can’t beat Andrew Fleming’s Dick. Now, having dispensed with the inevitable penis joke, we can now get down to business.
Writer-director Fleming and co-scripter Sheryl Longin model their movie on George Roy Hill’s 1964 The World of Henry Orient, a charming comedy about two infatuated Manhattan teenage girls stalking their idol, a lascivious concert pianist. Dick updates this prototype to D.C. at the height of the Watergate scandal.
Two 15-year-olds, lovely, dizzy Betsy (Kirsten Dunst) and dorky, sensitive Arlene (Michelle Williams), accidentally witness the Watergate break-in but manage to elude Nixon’s “plumbers.” Later, during a White House tour, they are spotted and interrogated to discover how much they know. To ensure their silence, President Nixon, who believes that he “has a way with young people,” appoints them official White House dog walkers. Overnight, he replaces pop singer Bobby Sherman as the object of their adoration. But the girls’ suspicions flare up when they see Bob Haldeman, G. Gordon Liddy, John Dean, and other Nixon operatives shredding documents and dispensing payoffs. Their worst fears are confirmed when they hear an Oval Office tape on which Nixon spews profanity and anti-Semitic slurs. Disenchanted, they contact Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and the rest is history.
History, that is, rewritten as cynical farce. (I have not spilled any beans; Betsy and Arlene are identified as Deep Throat in the opening reel.) At one point, the duo self-deprecatingly describe themselves as “stupid teenage girls,” but the film admiringly proffers them as smarter and braver, as well as more honorable and idealistic, than any politician or journalist in sight. However giggly and immature, they emerge as the most endearing screen heroines of recent memory.
In addition to Dunst’s and Williams’ delicious performances, Dick offers an array of dream assignments for its supporting players. Physically and emotionally, Dan Hedaya captures the contradictions of the title character: the stiffness and feigned cordiality, the baseness peering through the mask of state. The Kids in the Hall stalwart Dave Foley zeroes in on Haldeman’s essence: the brush-cut class president turned henchman. As Liddy, Harry Shearer does his best to impersonate a man who is himself a caricature of cartoon masculinity—but nobody could better this convicted felon’s sputtering self-parody on his odious daily radio talk show. Bruce McCulloch, another Kids in the Hall alumnus, has a field day as stumpy, clueless Carl Bernstein, but Will Ferrell’s bland Woodward lacks the unctuousness of the original. Henry Kissinger, the antonym of “inimitable,” has been aped by impressionists for three decades—which diminishes the impact of Saul Rubinek’s otherwise competent simulation.
Fleming’s set and costume designers gleefully re-create the era’s garish pop psychedelia, underscoring the screenplay’s drug gags, notably the dope-laced cookies that Nixon and his cronies greedily, albeit unwittingly, devour. The evocative soundtrack resurrects nearly two dozen ’70s Top 40 hits by, among others, the Jackson 5, Harry Nilsson, Labelle, Bread, Yes, Grand Funk Railroad, Carly Simon, and ABBA.
As irreverent in its cheerful fashion and less than half the length of Oliver Stone’s overblown Nixon, Dick takes for granted the audience’s contempt for the political establishment. One of the movie’s biggest laughs comes near the fadeout when, after witnessing Nixon’s resignation, Arlene triumphantly asserts, “They’ll never lie to us again.” This ironic sally is capped by a climactic, vengeful Dick/dick joke that sends moviegoers out of the theater wishing that Betsy and Arlene were around to take on the White House’s current mendacious occupants.
Few ’60s hit movies have dated as badly as Norman Jewison’s romantic heist picture, The Thomas Crown Affair. Haskell Wexler’s glossy cinematography, fragmented into mosaics by use of long-abandoned split-screen editing techniques, now looks like a cross between an American Express commercial and a visitors center’s multimedia slide show. Steve McQueen, as a suave millionaire bank robber, and Faye Dunaway, as an insurance investigator out to nab him, pose more often than act, and appear to be engaged in a competition to outsmirk one another. Today, their once-celebrated erotic chess-game, inspired by the eating scene in Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones, now seems so ludicrous that it is a target for parody in the current Austin Powers sequel. The movie’s sole untarnished element remains Michael Legrand’s rich orchestral score, which yielded the Oscar-winning song, “The Windmills of Your Mind,” and even this will probably sound antique to contemporary viewers accustomed to rock-inflected soundtracks.
Thanks to Rene Russo’s magnetic performance in the Dunaway role, director John McTiernan’s new Thomas Crown Affair is one of the rare remakes that improves on the original. The revised screenplay—which transposes the action from Boston to Manhattan, and the quarry from cash to a Metropolitan Museum of Art Monet painting—shifts its focus from the gentleman-thief to his multilingual, smart-as-a-whip adversary. At 45, an age when Hollywood customarily consigns women to character roles, the glamorous, resourceful Russo scores with her strongest work to date. Her intelligence and wit redeem an otherwise slick, upscale production so obsessed with ostentatious displays of wealth that the Communist Party could easily fatten its rolls by setting up membership tables outside multiplexes.
Clearly relishing this respite from helming explosive action pictures, director McTiernan (Predator, Die Hard) opens with a dizzyingly complex, high-tech art heist before narrowing in on the cat-and-mouse relationship of his sexually smitten antagonists. Unfortunately, Pierce Brosnan, as Crown, is outclassed by his brainy bounty huntress. With time blurring the contours of his handsome features, the blankly debonair actor offers little for his co-star to play against. In an homage to Jewison’s 1968 version, Dunaway returns for several brief scenes as Crown’s psychoanalyst. Spookily rejuvenated by cosmetic surgery, she reminds me of the classic Absolutely Fabulous line: “One more face lift, and she’d have a beard.”
Swiftly paced, with a sexy dance sequence effectively offsetting the omitted chess scene and an upbeat ending instead of the original’s bittersweet denouement, The Thomas Crown Affair achieves its intended function as a glitzy, air-conditioned summer divertissement. Its sole blemish is Bill Conti’s grating musical score, replacing Legrand’s imaginative, mood-enhancing compositions with thumping dance tracks. Sting smoothly reprises “The Windmills of Your Mind” under the closing credits, but too late to atone for Conti’s unmusical mayhem.
Trick, a featherweight gay dating comedy, plays like Billy Wilder’s The Apartment with the thorns removed. Shy Gabriel (Christian Campbell, Neve’s brother), an aspiring young Broadway musical-comedy composer, catches the eye of Mark (John Paul Pitoc), a go-go boy in a gay bar, but the pair can’t find a private place to have it off. Gabriel’s straight roommate, Rich (Brad Beyer), is shacked up in their tiny Manhattan apartment with his girlfriend, Judy (Lorri Bagley), and, for reasons that aren’t revealed until the fadeout, Mark can’t bring guests back to his Brooklyn residence. Every time the would-be bedmates manage to find themselves alone, their space is invaded by Gabriel’s best friend, Katherine (Tori Spelling), an obnoxious singer-actress wannabe.
The hot-to-trot tricksters’ birdbrained inability to arrive at the obvious solution to their dilemma—rent a cheap hotel room, dummies!—is just one of many holes in Jason Schafer’s screenplay. So they drift from bars to subways cars to diners in a state of accelerating frustration, padding out what should have been a half-hour vignette to numbing feature-length. Their relationship never goes farther than a lingering smooch, a breakthrough screen intimacy in 1971’s Sunday, Bloody Sunday, but coyly chaste in this age of in-your-face gay cinema.
Toothy, freckle-faced Campbell proves to be an appealingly unaffected discovery, effortlessly eclipsing the rest of the ensemble. Until his final scenes, Pitoc’s contribution amounts to little more than a set of well-toned muscles. Bagley’s Marilyn Monroe imitation quickly wears thin, but she’s a godsend compared with Spelling. Proof that, despite unlimited resources, human beings are not perfectible, Aaron Spelling’s talentless, unprepossessing daughter gives her most annoying performance, stopping the movie cold in its tracks with her shrill rendition of Gabriel’s song “Enter Love.” After the press screening, I discovered I wasn’t the only viewer who initially confused her character with Miss Coco Peru (Clinton Leupp), a drag queen who delivers a poisonously self-pitying monologue in a gay bar lavatory.
These days, modestly budgeted homosexual-themed features are safe bets to turn a modest profit, and no doubt, director Jim Fall’s comedy will succeed in its niche market. But as D.C.’s Reel Affirmations film festival demonstrates year after year, gay cinema has grown increasingly challenging in both content and style. Viewed in this context, Fall’s sapless, conservative Trick is less than a treat. CP