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Film / Dave

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"You don't really know how much you can do until you decide to stand up and really try."
Dave Kovic

Dave is a 1993 comedy film produced and directed by Ivan Reitman. More or less, it's The Prisoner of Zenda updated to the modern-day United States.

The President of the United States is Bill Mitchell (Kevin Kline), a corrupt career politician who works closely with his equally corrupt advisors, especially Chief of Staff Bob Alexander (Frank Langella). Meanwhile, Dave Kovic (also Kline) is a Nice Guy Everyman who happens to look exactly like the President, and has a side job impersonating him at parties. One day, Dave is hired as a Body Double to cover up one of Mitchell's extramarital affairs. But when the President suffers a debilitating stroke, Bob Alexander hatches an outrageous plan: push Dave to continue the impersonation until Alexander can get himself named Vice President. Alexander assumes this naive outsider will be easy to control, but then Dave starts Becoming the Mask...

The rest of the main cast includes Sigourney Weaver as the socially conscious First Lady; Kevin Dunn as another advisor in on the conspiracy, albeit reluctantly; and Ving Rhames as a Secret Service agent. A young Laura Linney plays the Sexy Secretary that the real Mitchell was bonking when he had his stroke.

This movie provides examples of:

  • Adam Westing: Oliver Stone and Jay Leno are happy to have a laugh at their own expense.
  • All There in the Script: While Dave's divorce is mentioned once late in the film, the script acknowledges that his secretary Alice is actually his ex-wife.
  • Ambition Is Evil:
    • Bob is very quick to set up events that will let him seize the presidency for himself. He is also heavily involved in all of the corruption at the white house and determined to squash Dave for getting in his way by the final act.
    • Downplayed and Played for Laughs a bit with one of the doctors treating the real president Mitchell (and keeping this a secret from the rest of the world), who is mentioned as having named being made head of the CDC as his price.
    • Averted with Dave. He starts to gain ambitious plans for his time in office and, after ending the facade, carries that into his own life with plans to run for office. But he never loses his kind nature or moral character.
  • Artistic License – Economics: Dave's friend Murray Blum is an accountant in private practice who "corrects" things by balancing the federal budget. In reality, as an individual in a small private practice Murray would likely focus on doing tax returns, financial statement preparation, and/or general accounting for small businesses or individuals. Accounting for Federal governmental entities is a specialized and complicated sub-division of accounting that it's extremely unlikely Murray would have any experience with it, especially by his perplexed reaction to seeing the current accounting set-up as it exists. While he would be assumed to be knowledgeable about GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) for private entities as established by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), it's less likely he would be very up to speed on standards set by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), and extremely unlikely to be caught up with the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board, which was formed just a few years before the release of this film.
  • Artistic License – Law: Dave saves a homless shelter and many others by getting each government department to move money out of useless projects. While this is a good idea in theory, government departments can't simply cancel projects and give the freed-up money to another one. Their budgets are allocated down to the project by an act of Congress at the beginning of each fiscal year. They're legally required to use the money for its intended purpose, no matter how unproductive or ridiculous certain projects may seem. Spending government money in a different project for which it was appropriated is in fact a crime. That's why the appropriations process is complicated, as there are levels about which level of detail the appropriations need to be at. Having the detail be too general allows the governmental managers move money around in all kind of unintended ways. Having appropriations be too detailed ends up limiting necessary flexibility.
  • Authority in Name Only: Averted. Bob clearly hoped this would be the case with Dave, but Dave quickly develops a backbone and starts making decisions himself.
  • Awful Wedded Life: President Mitchell and his wife. It's made extremely clear that the whole marriage is just for show and the two can barely stand one another behind closed doors and he cheats on her regularly as well as defunding a cause she was deeply passionate about.
  • Becoming the Mask: Dave starts the film as fairly carefree and a bit immature, albeit undoubtedly a very kind and caring person, but his time in office makes him a bit more serious minded and ambitious, ending the film with plans to run for city council.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Dave is as kind, caring and overall nice a person as you could ever hope to meet, but that does not mean he's a pushover or afraid to fight back when he has to as Bob Alexander finds out the hard way.
  • Big "YES!":
    • After Dave meets the first lady for the first time and says, "She hates me," Bob Alexander and Alan Reed simultaneously respond with a Big Yes.
    • Bob Alexander, when Dave confesses in front of Congress that President Mitchell had been involved in a savings and loan scandal. He changes his tune moments later when Dave produces evidence that he was involved as well.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: The real President Mitchell makes a point of coming across as a wholesome and principled family man to the public. In private, he's cold, callous, unpleasant and cheats on his wife.
  • Black-and-White Morality: Political morality is pretty straightforward in this film. Dave, Ellen, and Nance are Good. Mitchell and Alexander are Evil. Alan Reed starts off as a neutral character that works with the villains and eventually turns Good. It's not any more complicated than that. Perhaps it doesn't need to be in a feel-good movie like this.
  • Bluff the Impostor: How the President's wife confirms Dave isn't who he says he is: she mentions something Bill Mitchell did in the state legislature (which he wasn't part of), and Dave confirms.
  • Body Double: Dave for President Mitchell.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: Alexander orders Dave to call his office and explain his absence while impersonating the President. Dave lamely makes up a cover story about falling in Love at First Sight:
    Dave Kovic: She's great. She's really exotic. She's a princess. She's Polynesian — well, half Polynesian — and half American. She's... Amnesian.
  • The Cameo: A number of politicians and news pundits appear in the film as themselves. Among the most notable of these are multiple scenes of The McLaughlin Group.
  • Cassandra Truth: Oliver Stone gets wise to the ruse by comparing small differences in the two men's facial features. Of course, being such a notorious Conspiracy Theorist, no one believes him.
  • Catchphrase: Dave has "Everybody works on (insert day of the week)." Appropriate for a man with an employment agency.
  • Celebrity Impersonator: Dave's side business impersonating President Mitchell was the reason he picked up the initial gig. This comes in handy when he and the First Lady are caught out on a drive (see Your Costume Needs Work, below).
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Dave's friend Murray Blum, who runs an accounting office where Dave frequently finds temp jobs for his clients. He gets called to the White House for, of all things, balancing the federal budget.
  • Chewing the Scenery: "YES! Die, you POND SCUM!!!"
  • Collapsed Mid-Speech: The ruse Dave uses to hand off his presidency. He gives a big speech to Congress, then stutters, stumbles and collapses just after the important confession part, supposedly with a stroke so they can switch the real president back in.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Oliver Stone appears As Himself on Larry King's show, saying he's noted key facial differences between President Mitchell pre-and-post stroke.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: At first Dave is very silly and doesn't appear to be very serious about being the fake president, just like his puppeteers want him to be. Then he starts actually working to help the nation, and becomes the better president.
  • Dagwood Sandwich: Dave makes himself a comically large sandwich in the White House kitchen while under the watchful eye of Duane.
  • Death Glare: Bob Alexander is the master of these, especially when Dave starts going off-script.
    • Dave, surprisingly, gives one of these to Duane when the latter contradicts him on a request.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Secret Service agent Duane is a male example. Befitting his role as a stoic bodyguard, he's initially cold to Dave and doesn't acknowledge him most of the time, only giving him simple answers to his questions when he does. Over time however as Dave continually makes efforts to converse with him, he starts warming up to him more. By the end of the movie, he tells Dave (in a Call-Back to an earlier conversation) that "I would've taken a bullet for you."
    • Ellen Mitchell too. She's not a bad person and even cares deeply about helping the underprivileged but it's clear a prolonged and deeply unhappy marriage to a man who is extremely cold to her have left her very cynical. She becomes considerably happier with Dave once she finds out the truth.
  • Dysfunctional Family: This is the reason why the Manipulative Bastard dares to pull this off — the real president and his wife are so estranged that they barely talk anymore to each other. No one counted on Dave being a much better match for Mrs. Mitchell than her husband...
  • Earpiece Conversation: Dave is coached through two conversations by his handlers and mistakes their stage instructions for his next line both times.
  • Emergency Impersonation: Pretty much the whole point of the film.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • When President Mitchell and his wife debark from Marine One, they join hands and an aide hands him the leashes to his two dogs. As soon as they are inside the White House, they jerk their hands apart, he flicks the leashes to another aide, and they walk to separate wings with their respective staffs.
    • When Dave is in the homeless shelter, he takes a moment to befriend a young boy who is sitting off by himself. When the press photographers eagerly crowd around, Dave asks them to back off and let him talk in private.
  • The Everyman: In his review, Roger Ebert described the film as an attempt to re-tell the theme of several Frank Capra movies, including Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, in a fresh way:
    The subtext of "Dave" resembles the messages of many of the Capra movies: If people in power only behaved sensibly and with good will, a lot of our problems would solve themselves. Of course, it's not that simple. But watching Dave, there were moments when I found myself asking, why isn't it?
  • Fair-Weather Friend: Alexander throws a party at his home to watch Dave's humiliation in front of Congress, and prepare the announcement of his own presidential campaign. When Dave confesses to Congress that all the accusations against President Mitchell are true, the room cheers and several friends slap Bob on the back. Then Dave presents the evidence that Bob was directly involved in the financial scandal, a whisper passes through the room, and some people start drifting towards the door. By the time Congress is applauding the handshake between Dave and Vice President Nance, Bob's house has emptied, leaving him watching the television completely alone.
  • Fake Faint: The eponymous character pretends to collapse after confessing to the President's illegal actions and exonerating the Vice President, during the joint session of Congress. It works because the President (whom he had been impersonating) had suffered a stroke earlier in the movie, and this was used as a means of swapping Dave with the real coma-bound President after he chose to come clean about the President's illegal activities. And of course, the real President really is in a coma after a severe stroke, so the medicine will match up, though there might be some Artistic License – Medicine related to how long it's been since the stroke actually happened, and how long Mitchell has been lying in bed.
  • Fish out of Water: Dave is initially in over his head, but he soon adapts and steers the Executive Office in a better direction due to his commonsense knowledge of what's right and what's wrong as well as his willingness to listen to trusted advisors.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Bob's entire scheme is to make everyone believe Dave is the President. It works... to the point where Dave takes the power right out of his hands, because there's no way to claim he's not the President without implicating himself.
    • It's indicated this is why Bob can't tell anyone the "President" who had a stroke in the middle of Congress was a fake; as bad as it is to go to jail over his frauds, revealing he was behind an impostor President could well have Bob tried for treason. And Dave is quick to note that Bob has a lot more to lose from such a revelation than he does.
  • Good Feels Good: Dave loves helping people and the ability to do it on a wide scale that the presidency allows him.
  • Good Is Not Dumb: Alexander believes Dave will be easy to manipulate, but Dave turns out to not only be able to outmaneuver Alexander, but is surprisingly good at public policy - and really good at public relations, thanks to having the genuine warmth and sincerity that the real Bill Mitchell lacked.
  • Happy Marriage Charade: The real President Mitchell and Ellen pretended to be a loving couple for the cameras, while hating each other in private.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Alan Reed wasn't all that bad to begin with, but went along with Bob's schemes. Eventually, he developed more loyalty for Dave, and helped him, both with his agenda, and his plan to bring Bob down.
  • Heroes Love Dogs: Invoked and played straight. President Mitchell has two dogs to help his image but never shows them any affection and seems to see them as just a prop, handing them off to an aide as soon as he's away from cameras. Dave, by contrast, genuinely loves them and they respond in kind.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • Bob aims to manipulate Dave into following his own agenda, which will end with him being President. Unfortunately, he doesn't count on Dave both rebelling against his agenda and realizing that so far as everyone is concerned, Dave is the President.
    • After being fired, Bob's next strategy is to implicate the President in a major financial scandal so he'll be impeached, and Bob can run as his replacement. Dave's response to that is to address a joint session of congress, publicly admit "his" guilt, and then reveal that Bob was complicit with the whole thing, complete with records proving both of their guilt. He then faked a stroke, switched places with the comatose president once again, and escaped back to his own life, leaving Bob to take the fall for everything.
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Averted — the First Lady sings about as well as an average person would. But her rough vocals clash with Dave's polished performance when they have to pretend to be a husband/wife celebrity impersonator team.
  • I Am the Noun:
    Murray: You could get in so much trouble if they find out.
    Dave: With who?
    Murray: The government.
    Dave: I'm the government.
  • I Want You to Meet an Old Friend of Mine: Although they don't share any scenes in this film, Charles Grodin (Murray Blum) and Bonnie Hunt (The White House Tour Guide) previously starred together as George and Alice Newton in Beethoven. Amusingly, Ivan Reitman also worked on Beethoven as executive producer. In addition, Kevin Dunn (Alan Reed) also appeared in the film's sequel, Beethoven's 2nd, in an uncredited role as Brillo, the ex-husband of Regina, the owner of Missy, a fellow St. Bernard who falls in love with Beethoven and has puppies with him, who Regina wants to either drown or sell.
  • Identical Stranger: Runs the whole plot. Justified, since Dave not only resembles the president but has a side-gig as his Celebrity Impersonator, and that's how the government found him.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: The tour guide at the White House mentions to the group of kids that "the White House always maintains its dignity." Cue Bob Alexander storming right by.
  • Jerkass:
    • President Mitchell, the real one. He's callous about the plight of the homeless, cheats on his wife and is extremely cold and distant to her in general and is bullying towards members of his cabinet.
    • Alexander himself is a pretty nasty piece of work, even without his corruption and subversion of the political process, explicitly stating at one point he is more interested in his own agenda than with helping underprivileged people.
  • Large Ham: Frank Langella as the scheming Chief of Staff, but being a Capra-esque film, it comes with the territory, and Langella gleefully chews the scenery.
  • Leave the Two Lovebirds Alone: Last shots of the film have Ellen coming in to volunteer for Dave's city council campaign. He sees her, shuffles her into his office, and they immediately start kissing. They stop for a moment so Dave can close the blinds — while multiple people, including Murray, are looking on in disbelief — and Duane then steps in front of the office door.
  • Leno Device: Leno appears to talk about the President's new attitude change, asking out loud if he's been overdosing on Happy Meals.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Mitchell's full name is William Harrison Mitchell, and the screenwriters have confirmed that he was named after William Henry Harrison. Who, by the way, was the first American President to die in office.
    • Vice President Nance's name comes from FDR's first veep, John Nance Garner.note 
  • Naked People Are Funny: Before she learned about the ruse or so Dave thought, at least, Ellen walked in on Dave in the shower. After she confirmed Dave wasn't really her husband, he asked if seeing him naked had given the game away. With some other implications.
  • Near-Villain Victory: At Alexander's house, where he watches "President Mitchell's" speech with supporters all ready to start gearing up for Alexander's own presidential run. He gets really cocky when Dave admits to Mitchell's involvement, celebrating the set-up to his own run. Dave then reveals that Alexander was also involved and just as guilty. When they cut again to Alexander, mere seconds later, he's been completely abandoned.
  • Newscaster Cameo: Among the many cameo appearances by reporters and commentators are CNN's Larry King; The McLaughlin Group panelist Morton Kondracke; Frank Mankiewicz (former press secretary to Robert F. Kennedy); longtime UPI White House correspondent Helen Thomas and former NBC and ABC correspondent Sander Vanocur.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: When Nance is sworn in at the end of the film, he's referred to as the forty-fifth president, making Mitchell the forty-fourth president. Thus, extrapolating fictional presidencies from the time when the film was made, the story takes place in the year 2000 at the earliest and 2016 at the latest. Nevertheless, the political cameos firmly place it in The '90s. Incidentally, Barack Obama is the real forty-fourth president, while Donald Trump is the real forty-fifth president.
  • Nice Guy: Dave. He's an extremely kind and caring person who uses the powers of the office to do as much good as he can and is polite and charming to everyone he meets. Everyone but Bob Alexander can't help but be won over by him.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Bob Alexander, when Dave confronts him about the closing of a homeless shelter, tells Dave that the latter can save the shelter if he can find the money in the federal budget to do so. Dave then proceeds to start taking action and truly act like he's the President of the United States (starting by saving said shelter), culminating in firing Alexander.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Bill Mitchell is generally believed to be a negative satire of George H. W. Bush, with shades of Bill Clinton, being about the same age as the latter and trying to give off the same impression.
  • No Party Given: Bill Mitchell's political affiliations aren't mentioned. In one scene, there's even an interview montage in which it's shown that there are both Democrats and Republicans in favour of and in opposition to Dave-as-Mitchell's Jobs program.
  • Oh, Crap!: Bob Alexander when Dave produces evidence at the end that he was involved in the savings and loan scandal as well. He's basically reduced to staring at his television in horrified slack-jawed catatonia.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted when Dave meets the little boy David at the homeless shelter.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: The First Lady first gets suspicious of Dave when she catches him looking at her legs, since the real President lost interest years ago.
  • Out with a Bang: Kind of. President Mitchell has a stroke and falls into a coma while having sex. He doesn't actually die until later.
  • Politician Guest-Star: Among the political cameos and appearances are those of Senators Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio; Paul Simon of Illinois; Tom Harkin of Iowanote ; Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Alan Simpson of Wyomingnote ; D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Abner Mikva and former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill in one of O'Neill's final public appearances before his death from cardiac arrest in January 1994.
  • Power Fist: One of his public relations tours gives Dave the opportunity to try out some telepresence robot arms with a 40 foot reach.
    Dave: I once caught a fish this big!
  • Preferable Impersonator: Dave ultimately proves to be better than the president he's impersonating, even the First Lady preferring him.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: When the White House Chief of Staff and Communications Director conspire to replace the incapacitated president with an impersonator in order for the former to pursue his own agendas it's a nefarious conspiracy. When the impersonator himself, his new squeeze the First Lady and a Secret Service agent do the same thing it's portrayed as heartwarming and principled. It does make some difference that, unlike Alexander, Dave was willing to end the deception once he found out the VP wasn't mentally ill so it was no longer necessary for him to continue. It also helps that Dave's agenda, unlike Alexander's, was actually based around helping people and not just lining his own pockets.
  • Protagonist Title: There's no question of whom the movie is about.
  • The Puppet Cuts His Strings: Dave realizes that he can use Mitchell's office to push his own agenda of helping the disenfranchised. The moment he cuts his strings is very clear, as he faces down Alexander in front of a cabinet meeting he should never have assembled.
  • Puppet King: Dave was chosen as a placeholder until the conspirators could get the Vice-President out of the way. Despite effectively having the office of President, he was expected to do nothing more than keep up the appearance that Mitchell was active.
  • Real-Person Cameo: Several real life politicians and reporters make cameos.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Dave becomes this to the First Lady, as her real husband is in a coma and he gets along with her much better.
  • Say My Name: When Dave elaborates on his "confession", turning to reveal a giant stack of evidence that the real mastermind of the scheme was Bob Alexander, the joy is promptly wiped off his face, and he instantly mutters the name of the person who must've turned over said evidence:
    Bob Alexander: Alan...
  • Scary Black Man: Dave's Secret Service bodyguard, Duane Stevensen. He's even played by Ving Rhames.
  • Self-Deprecation: Oliver Stone in his cameo, making fun of his Conspiracy Theorist public persona that arose after he made JFK. The irony, of course, is that he's right.
  • Sexy Secretary: Laura Linney! Namely the woman Mitchell was having an affair with.
  • Shown Their Work: Kevin Kline does a remarkably good job of portraying the victim of a stroke during Dave's speech, relaxing the muscles in the left side of his face to simulate the early effects (slurred speech, facial paralysis). By the time Dave falls over, he has fully sold the act (even though it is an act, in-character as well as out).
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: The movie is firmly idealistic.
  • The Starscream: Bob Alexander, the Chief of Staff.
  • The Stoic: Dave's Secret Service bodyguard, Duane Stevensen lets little emotion into his face or voice.
  • Threat Backfire: When Dave refuses to keep going along with Bob's agenda, Bob threatens to fire him. Dave then offers to inform the press, and Bob realizes that there's no way to get rid of Dave without implicating himself in what is effectively a coup (particularly when the First Lady is willing to back Dave up).
  • Time Skip: The ending takes place five months after Dave's joint Congress session, as that's how long the real Bill Mitchell remains comatose for, before finally dying. Afterwards, Nance is seen being sworn in as President and Dave meanwhile has started running a campaign for City Council.
  • 25th Amendment: Bob Alexander's whole plot is a Zany Scheme to illegally sidestep the twenty-fifth amendment, and prevent the ascension of the Vice President. His plan would have culminated with Dave being bumped off and him becoming president, but he doesn't get that far.
  • Undying Loyalty: Duane pledges this to Dave, confessing "I would've taken a bullet for you." just before Dave makes his exit. At the end of the film he's working for Dave's city council campaign.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: The audience is not told what Dave's plan is before he gives his final speech to Congress, so when he collapses in the middle of the speech it's not immediately obvious whether that is also part of the plan. It is, and it goes off without a hitch.
  • Vice President Who?: Played with. Vice President Nance is conspicuously absent for the first half of the film, having been sent on a "goodwill tour" to keep him away and Dave is told that he's lost his mind. Once he actually does show up on screen, though, it becomes clear that he's one of the few honest, decent members of the Mitchell administration. This becomes a vital point, as it leads to Dave deciding to swap places again, reveal that the president is incapacitated, and let Nance take his rightful place as Acting President.
  • Villainous Breakdown: At the very end, after Dave has just exposed his corruption in front of Congress and the watching American people, Bob Alexander is reduced to staring catatonically at his television in an empty house as his life completely falls apart within a matter of minutes.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Several are directed at Dave, not realizing that the actions in question are the doings of Bob Alexander and that Dave's really innocent.
    • More pointedly, Dave's accountant friend, Murray Blum, gives Dave a quick version of this as he's leaving after helping Dave with balancing the federal budget. This is when Dave realizes that the deception can't continue.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The last couple minutes of the film covers the real President Mitchell's death, the inauguration of Nance as President, and the indictment of Bob Alexander, while Dave decides to run for DC City Council...and ends up bagging Ellen for real. Oh, and Duane is his bodyguard.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: The plot is essentially an adaptation of The Prisoner of Zenda (a close physical double of a national leader stands in when the real leader is incapacitated, and ends up being both a better leader and a better person all 'round, falling for the leader's wife in the process), only modernized and stripped of most of the "swashbuckling adventure story" aspects. It also qualifies for a Prince and Pauper plot. An earlier Richard Dreyfuss movie, Moon over Parador, follows the same plot.
  • Your Costume Needs Work: Towards the First Lady, when she masquerades as a celebrity impersonator of herself.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: In the ending, after Dave and Ellen share their first uninhibited kiss, they notice the entire staff of Dave's office staring at them, and Dave draws the blinds. Then Duane steps in front of the door, wearing a Kovic campaign pin, and crosses his arms, silently telling the audience that what's going on inside the office is none of their business.