Bob Mitchell is the typical US president. Dodgy, rich, adulterous, you know the rest. Whilst he is supposed to attend a function he uses a double, the nice guy Dave Kovic, as a stand-in so he can spend the night with his secretary. However, after he suffers a massive stroke, he lapses into a coma, his chief of staff and chief scriptwriter however are intertwined in a corruption scandal and if the vice president takes over they will be scuppered. So rather than do that they decide to keep using the stand-in to maintain the illusion that the president is just fine.
Not having suffered the rise to power that many politicians go through Dave isn't blinded by just running things the way they always have been and can see the many wrong decisions that politicians make simply to keep the status quo and, after tiring of simply following the orders of the chief of staff, decides to do what so few US presidents do, and make things better for the working man.
To this and the last decade Gary Ross is what Frank Capra was to the thirties and forties, with a variety of feel good films that challenge are ideas about what the world is and what it should be. The script for this film is dynamite with a ton of great touches, including Dave's changing from Presidential script reader to tourist as he spots a souvenir. The film manages to stride in between the dangerous path of a hard right "Eastwood-Esque" take on things and the ultra-liberal path that someone like Redford would focus on. Instead the film manages to put itself in the minds of the ordinary Joe, who watches in disbelief at the stupid things that the powers that be spend money on, when so many problems still go on without being addressed at all, with sound bites like "You can't solve problems by throwing money at them" (How come it's only the wealthy that say that?)
The performances are all first rate with Kevin Kline magnificent as the idealistic Dave Kovic thrown into the deep end after becoming the leader of the free world, Frank Langella and Alan Reed also excel as the Chief of staff and Chief scriptwriter, with Charles Grodin stealing the scene as the put upon Murray who takes on various people from Dave's temp agency when he is stuck finding work for people elsewhere. The direction is nothing special but succeeds in telling the story with humour and sadness that very often the people who get the top job have so little knowledge of the people at the bottom to make any significant change in society.
First rate, and far better than the IMDb rating suggests. Also watch out for a great end gag. Top drawer.