It’s a premise ripe with comedic possibilities: a washed up former child star tries to get a career-reviving part in an upcoming movie. Frank Sinatra’s big Oscar-winning comeback in 1953’s “From Here to Eternity” is even mentioned as an example. But instead of using mob ties to ensure he gets the role like Sinatra did, Dickie Roberts (David Spade) decides he must create the childhood that was robbed of him during his young TV-fame heyday. Then, and only then, will he have the proper background of adult experiences to draw from in order to win the audition.
And right there is where this groaner of a comedy immediately derails into schmaltzland.
I like dumb comedies. If they are done well, like “The Naked Gun” or “There’s Something About Mary,” I don’t mind the excessive cheese factor. And by cheese factor, I mean the specific point at which a comedy sells itself out completely to make a lame and forced stab at sentimentality. This is especially uncomfortable when the movie doesn’t have any real characters in it anyhow, and they quickly about face.
“Anger Management” had been the worst example of this I had seen all year, like when New York City mayor Rudy Guliani shouts words of encouragement to Adam Sandler in front of a rapt crowd at a Yankees game (yeah right) while he proposes to his girlfriend. So it’s fitting that the movie to come along and steal the schmaltz crown away would be one produced by Sandler, for his old pal Spade.
There are a couple of funny moments that shine through the early overall ineptness of “Dickie Roberts,” like when washed-up former child stars Danny Bonaduce (Danny Partridge), Barry Williams (Greg Brady), Dustin Diamond (Screech), Leif Garrett (Leif Garrett), and Corey Feldman are all revealed to be close friends of the Dickster at a poker game. And there’s an almost funny scene where Dickie boxes original gangsta Emmanuel Lewis (Webster) and loses.
But as soon as a cute family takes Dickie in as a foster child so he can learn what it’s like to be a kid, it’s all over. The movie completely loses what little bite it has, and we are treated to scenes like Spade wrestling with an out-of-control garden hose! Whee! Isn’t that crazy? Water gets everywhere! In the hands of someone actually possessing timing and physical comedy skills, this could have at least elicited a giggle, but as the music climbed louder and louder (signifying that some wacky goings-on are afoot), and I realized this WAS supposed to be the funny part, I felt sad inside.
It’s like when a stand-up act is dying and you’re sitting at the front table, sorry that you’re not laughing because you don’t want to embarrass him further. I didn’t want to disappoint Mr. Spade (who also co-wrote the film), and I’m glad he wasn’t watching me not laugh at his movie and groan to my friend Ryan sitting next to me, but he’s just not funny.
You’ll never guess what happens next.
No, wait, you will! Because this is one of those insulting films where the main character learns something from the cute family, and we endure uninspired montages showing how the crazy guy teaches the family how to live a little, and the family teaches the crazy guy how to love. Isn’t it precious?
Then, as Dickie comes closer to realizing his goal and getting the part, he starts to realize what’s really important in life. Awwww. And, you know what, I’ll bet you that everybody who came to the theater to laugh last night was happy to learn these simple life lessons from star David Spade (“Joe Dirt”) and director Sam Weisman (“D2:The Mighty Ducks,” “The Out-of-Towners”). And I’ll bet you that caring message meant a lot coming from a man who, at one point in the film, washed a dead rabbit in the bathtub with the Mom and the kids, so their neighbors wouldn’t suspect the family dog of killing it. I’ll bet you a whole penny. Because that’s what that sentiment is worth in an offensively unfunny film like this one.
So how did “Dickie Roberts” go from a promising satire on celebrity, to a formula-within-a-formula, color-by-numbers bore? Easy. It never got past the premise. There may be a funny movie to be made out of the current “True Hollywood Story” fascination, but this definitely isn’t it. It’s not even close.
P.S. A good closing credits sequence can’t save an awful movie, but if you must see this terrible film, at least stick around for the credits to see a “We Are The World” chorus of former child actors singing a very funny song. It’s just another example of what could have been.