50 million people used to watch him on TV.
When you think "leading man" you normally don't picture comedian David Spade. A great supporting player on Saturday Night Live and the sitcom Just Shoot Me, Spade has made a living as a sarcastic, smarmy funnyman mocking everything within his eyesight. Though the tepid The Adventures of Joe Dirt floundered at the box office, Spade is back once again in the surprise (minor) hit Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star. Also starring Jon Lovitz (TV's The Critic), Mary McCormick (Howard Stern: Private Parts) and a host of former child stars both new and old (Emmanuel Lewis, Todd Bridges, and Barry Williams, among others), Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star arrives on DVD care of Paramount Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Dickie Roberts (Spade) was once a beloved child actor and star of a hit sitcom (his catch phrase was "Are you Nucking Futs?"). But when the ratings dried up, so did Dickie's career. Ousted from his starring role and thrust into Hollywood oblivion, Dickie now works as a valet while spending his Thursday nights playing poker with other former child stars, including Dustin `Screech' Diamond, Danny `Danny Partridge' Bonaduce, and `70s teen idol Leaf Garrett. When he hears about a new movie being directed by Rob Reiner (playing himself), Dickie starts foaming at the mouth. He'll do anything to win the part and get himself put back on the celebrity map! When Reiner tells Dickie that for him to play this part he'd need to have a `normal' childhood (something Dickie never experienced), Dickie has an epiphany—rent a real life family and learn how to grow up normal! With the help of his agent (Lovitz) and an ad in the paper, Dickie hires the Finney family as his new parents, brother and sister. Through Grace (McCormick) and George Finney (Craig Bierko, Sour Grapes), as well as their two children, Dickie will attempt to relive his adolescence and win a role in the film…or go back to being a doormat for the rich and famous!
When a movie's closing credits are funnier than the feature film, you know you're in trouble. Such is the fate of David Spade's Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, a comedy that could have been hysterical but instead settles for mediocrity. David Spade is an amusing guy, but only when the material is acidic and biting. Whenever sentimentality gets in the way, he flounders like a fish out of water—and Dickie Roberts has so much sentimentality at times it could be mistaken for a Hallmark Mother's Day card.
After watching the film, I noticed Adam Sandler produced it under his "Happy Madison" production company. Uh-huh. I've seen a few other "Happy Madison" movies—including Rob Schneider's The Animal, Anger Management and The Master of Disguise—and they all display the same qualities: interesting premises featuring watered-down comedy. In Anger Management Jack Nicholson and Sandler sleepwalked through an essentially unfunny screenplay. Even worse was Dana Carvey's horrible misfire The Master of Disguise. Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star follows this long downward spiral, by taking an inspired idea (ex-child stars…hysterical!) and doing almost nothing with it.
Oh sure, there are a few funny moments. During a poker game at Dickie's apartment, a host of quasi-famous child stars sit and muse about their golden days (limos, babes, etc.). In another scene, Dickie is rolled down the street in a stroller, in an attempt to recapture his youth. Yet that's pretty much the extent of this film's comedy. Every once in a while Spade is able to raise a few smirks with his off-the-cuff zingers, but because the plot feels so `sitcom-y' and forced, all the laughs are diluted. The supporting cast—including the usually funny Jon Lovitz and Mary McCormick—seem more like plot propellers than actual characters. Certainly it was fun to see all the former child stars, including Emmanuel `Webster' Lewis beating the snot out of Dickie in a "Celebrity Boxing" match. It's just too bad Spade couldn't figure out more to do with them than parade each on-screen for a few seconds like celebrity cattle.
Which brings me back to the end titles, which are the funniest thing about this movie. There is something ingenious in how Spade was able to get a few dozen child actors together (including but not limited to Butch `Eddie Munster' Patrick, Maureen `Marsha Brady' McCormick, Corey Feldman and Haim, and the late Fred `Rerun' Barry) to sing a `We Are The World'-like parody about the trials and tribulations of being a former child star. I found myself laughing at and with these one-time famous faces. Let's just hope Spade doesn't end up in their boat—which may be the case if he keeps on making movies like this one
Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. I don't have many complaints about this transfer. Overall it's a very solid effort by Paramount. The blacks are dark and well defined, while the colors and flesh tones are all evenly rendered. Aside of the slightest amount of edge enhancement (which is hardly noticeable), this is a great looking picture that should please fans.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. Overall this is a fine sound mix, if wholly unexciting. There are a few surround sounds/directional effects to be found here, though it's mostly through the pop soundtrack and music score. In other words, this is often a front heavy sound mix with occasional rear speaker activity. All aspects of the mix are free of any hiss or distortion. Also included on this disc are English subtitles, as well as a Dolby 2.0 soundtrack in French and English.
Once again we get another mediocre title that's hardly deserving of a special collector's edition, yet has a boatload of extra features. Starting off the disc are two commentary tracks, one by director Sam Weisman and a second by star David Spade and writer Fred Wolf. Both of these commentaries are worth listening to, if you're a fan of the film—otherwise they can pretty much be skipped. The track featuring Spade and Wolf is the better of the two, if only because it's fun to hear their stories about what it was like working with all those former child actors in one confined space.
The best supplement is "Reel Comedy: Dickie Roberts," a Comedy Central look at Dickie Roberts sporting funny parodies of films like Save The Last Dance and What Women Want. You haven't lived a full and complete life until you see the unique pairing of Emmanuel Lewis teaching Erin Moran how to be a hip-hop dancer. Also included are some clips from the film, interview snippets with Spade and company, and Todd Bridges trying out for the Eddie Murphy role in 48 Hours. Priceless.
"Pencil Writing" is a short look at Spade and Fred Wolf, who co-wrote the screenplay together. It's a nice piece on writing a screenplay, but does anyone really care that much about a script as mundane as this? "The True Hollywood Story" is yet another fluffy look at the making of the film and includes interviews with Spade, Mary McCormick, Rob Reiner, and others. "Behind Child Stars On Your Television" is an affectionate behind-the-scenes look at how Spade and his crew were able to wrangle all those former actors and actresses into the film. Complimenting that featurette is an extended music video for the song 'Child Stars On Your Television.'
Finally there are nine deleted scenes (all presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, and none adding anything to the final film), a few previews for various Paramount titles, and the film's original theatrical trailer.
I can't say I laughed a lot at Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star. You may find yourself feeling differently, especially if you've been drinking heavily. If you're a fan of Sandler's sense of humor, or Spade's sarcastic wit (sadly toned down for this film), Dickie Roberts may be worth your time. Otherwise, you may get more out of renting a few old episodes of Webster.
I'd like to sentence Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star but, in light of the subject matter, we all know that would just be cliché. Instead I'm giving it a misdemeanor and sending it on its way. Court adjourned!
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• Commentary Track by Director Sam Weisman
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