Combustible Celluloid
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With: David Spade, Jon Lovitz, Alyssa Milano, Mary McCormack, Craig Bierko, Scott Terra, Jenna Boyd, Bobby Slayton, Emmanuel Lewis, Lief Garrett, Rob Reiner
Written by: David Spade, Fred Wolf
Directed by: Sam Weisman
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for crude and sex-related humor, language and drug references
Running Time: 98
Date: 09/03/2003

Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star (2003)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Problem 'Child'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Pop quiz: what's the secret of a great comedy? Why are films like Duck Soup, The Bank Dick, Dr. Strangelove, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Annie Hall and TV shows like "Seinfeld" and "The Simpsons" still so beloved? The quick answer is because their heroes never learn any lessons. In today's corporate-run Hollywood, studios will not green light a comedy unless it has a strong three-act structure, which usually means that the hero experiences some kind of self-discovery and becomes a better person. This is not funny. It takes a genius like Preston Sturges to really make it work in something like Sullivan's Travels. But Sturges is long gone and no one has replaced him.

Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star is only the latest in a long line of forgettable, unfunny "comedies" in which we're supposed to care about some intrinsically unlikable slob. These characters would be much funnier if they simply embraced their inner jerk. David Spade stars as Dickie, a thirtysomething who as a child starred on a hit TV show and now parks cars for a living. His big comeback looms in the form of a new Rob Reiner comedy, but Reiner won't cast him because Dickie has no idea what "real life" is like. So Dickie hires a family to help "raise" him and let him experience what a normal life would have been like. And, of course, he learns to be a better person. Spade might as well have dropped to his knees and begged the audience to love him for two hours. What really hurts about "Dickie Roberts" isn't so much that it's not funny, but that it's so insufferably long and slow-moving. It's actually only 99 minutes, but when you have such a sliver of an idea stretched out for so long, it feels interminable.

Spade has never been comfortable in the long format. He's best with his obnoxious insults in short "Saturday Night Live" bits and walk-ons in his sitcom "Just Shoot Me." To pull off a feature film, one has to be something of an actor, which Spade isn't -- as proven by the fact that we never actually see his big audition that the entire film leads up to. To pad out the running time, the film stoops to several musical montages, or little videos, showing Dickie bonding with his surrogate brother (Scott Terra), sister (Jenna Boyd) and mom (Mary McCormack). The movie drops little Freudian veins that could possibly yield dark comedic nuggets, but Spade and director Sam Weisman (What's the Worst That Could Happen?) are either too timid or too bored to explore them. Jon Lovitz as Dickie's agent and Alyssa Milano as his bitchy girlfriend provide a couple of light moments, and the film really begs for our love during the end credits -- a musical number performed by real-life former "stars" -- but Dickie Roberts too early swaps laughs for artificial sweetener.{subid}&url=hitlist.asp?searchfield=marvel
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