“Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star” just isn’t a very funny movie. At best, audiences who don’t think too much will laugh once or twice then forget the whole thing before they reach the door of the theater.
This is yet another in the increasingly inert and generic assembly line created by Adam Sandler for SNL alums like Rob Schneider. It has Sandler’s “Happy Madison” production company trademarks: lame middle-school-style jokes that seem racy to younger kids and stuck-in-the-80’s humor for older viewers who, like Sandler, suffer from arrested development.
The SNL-alum of choice in this one is David Spade as a former child star trying to make a comeback. But it fails to take advantage of Spade’s snarky sensibility, relying mostly on the stunt casting of real-life faded child stars to make the audience feel smugly superior to the people who were once featured on their lunch boxes and locker posters.
Dickie Roberts was the son of an overbearing mother who pushed him to be the child star of a hugely successful TV show called The Glimmer Gang, complete with a precious tagline (“This is nucking futs!”—cute, huh?) that propelled him into stardom and had him washed up by the time he was seven. Now he’s fighting to get back in the picture, starting with a pitiful celebrity boxing match where he gets his butt kicked by “Webster” (Emmanuel Lewis).
Dickie begs director Rob Reiner to cast him in a role that Sean Penn is competing for about a guy building a big house who finds Heaven in his backyard.
When Reiner tells Dickie that he’s unsuitable for the part because he has no idea of what it’s like to have a normal childhood, Dickie puts an ad in the paper to find a family that will let him move into their house and live like a kid, as one character says, to “reboot him like a computer.”
He’s adopted by the father (Craig Bierko) of a picturesque American family. Mommy (Mary McCormack) and the two kids (Scott Terra and Jenna Boyd) don’t really like him at first, but…you know the rest.
Of course the premise makes no sense, but then the way it’s carried out doesn’t make any sense either. It’s just a string of listless skits. The movie feels haphazard and thrown together, with a bike-riding scene that ends up like a Jackass stunt and a disturbingly Oedipal “your mom’s hot” running joke. Just to show how lazy this film is, when Dickie gets back on the scene, instead of writing something funny, they use use old footage of David Spade on Jay Leno’s show, on the cover of Rolling Stone, and performing with Aerosmith. Or maybe that was in hopes of reminding us that despite this movie, David Spade is actually a pretty cool guy.
There are a few moments that remind you how talented Spade is, particularly when he spouts off smart-aleck remarks, but they are more suitable for stand-up routines than for depiction on screen with other actors. His insults to some school bullies would be funnier if we didn’t see him actually using that language to people who are, after all, children. The movie seems to applaud him not just for for crudely insulting children, but also for making a fake 911 call and giving someone the finger.
Episodes like giving a bath to a dead rabbit, applauding “Mom” for rudely telling off an imperious neighbor, the exchange of a kidney transplant for an audition, and hitting someone in the head with a champagne cork are sour and weird.
It’s impossible not to get the feeling that the real-life Spade, the co-writer and star, is closer to the twisted Dickie at the beginning of the movie than the loving family man of the end. The way he wastes the talents of Jon Lovitz (as Dickie’s agent), McCormack, Bierko, SNL’s Rachel Dratch, Brendan Fraser, and former child star Alyssa Milano, and his inability to interact with anyone else on screen just demonstrates that Spade is as self-absorbed as Dickie is.
Ultimately, though, the movie’s lame humor is less painful than the supposedly touching material about how love is all that really matters.
In a sense, it may seem almost kind to give cameos to all the former child stars, given this reminder of how empty their lives can feel when they are no longer adorable. But there is something un-funnily awkward about seeing them debase themselves in this movie just for another shot at an audience and a paycheck. And there is some irony that by far the brighest moments of the movie come from one of its child stars — Boyd has a lovely comic snap and gives the most genuine perfomance in the film.
Parents should know that this film contains very strong language for a PG-13, including crude humor, alcohol and drug references, a child’s use of a swear word portrayed as funny, and a joke about Jesus that some people will find offensive.
Families who see this movie should talk about some of their favorite child stars and what they would and would not like about being famous.
Families who enjoy this movie should try Back to School or watch Spade shine with the late Chris Farley in Tommy Boy.