While it has a fair share of laughs, all Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star really does is reinforce the one thing everyone knows about David Spade. He can be funny, but when it comes to films, he will never step out from the late Chris Farley’s immense shadow even if he is more versatile.
At least Dickie Roberts is a good dozen jokes apart from being a one-joke movie. And the only strong complaint is that at a time when Danny Bonaduce and Barry Williams flailing about in a boxing ring passes for prime-time TV, its high-concept premise feels dated. It’s a good thing Spade penned the premise as fiction before Fox tried to pass it off as a reality show.
The title character’s run with fame came as a crooked-teeth little moppet on a prime-time show called The Glimmer Gang. Two of Spade and co-writer Fred Wolf’s funnier running jokes are that Dickie claims credit for having spawned the catch-phrase “This is nucking futs!” and that he might be the illegitimate son of Hutch himself, David Soul.
But, abandoned by Hollywood, and his mother, Dickie grows up to work as a parking valet, tenuously holding on to an agent (a disappointingly wasted Jon Lovitz) and an ambitious girlfriend (Alyssa Milano).
Dickie is holding out hope for a role in Mr. Blake’s Backyard, a film to be directed by Rob Reiner (playing himself) that he thinks will launch his comeback. That a Rob Reiner film would be considered a comeback for anyone is the best proof possible that movies really do provide an escape from reality. (For that movie’s plot, think Citizen Kane remade by Chris Columbus.)
Reiner tells Dickie that because he had an abnormal childhood, he lacks the proper background for the part. His solution is to hire a family that will take him in, treat him as they would a child and, thus, get the experience necessary to win the role.
Once he takes up with the Tracy family, his chosen clan, Dickie gets all the sort of sappy life lessons by helping out with schoolyard snots and bullies, the girl next door and the misogynistic husband (Craig Bierko, big-toothed and sneering).
Yes, there are swelling strings on the soundtrack and at least three variations on the “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said / done for me” bit, but it’s not as offensively melodramatic as it sounds. Plus, passable acting from Mary McCormack as the mother and Scott Terra and Jenna Boyd as the kids makes it go down easier.
But it is awfully hard to picture Spade penning earnest lines like “You grew up, Dickie Roberts.” Even if Farley played to obvious sympathy for his characters’ fatness and buffoonish tendencies, there was a natural sweetness to his one-trick-pony act. It feels at times like Spade is trying too hard to play nice.
It’s easier to imagine him as the man behind weird but funny gags involving a dead rabbit and an overly affectionate Twinkie eater along with snips at Ric Ocasek, Brad Pitt and Vin Diesel (reminiscent of his best work on the consistently incisive “Hollywood Minute” on SNL.)
Because Dickie Roberts clearly isn’t aiming for anything greater than mediocrity — and the resultant slot in Comedy Central’s movie rotation — it’s pointless to be too rough on it. It’s a comedy where some ideas work, some ideas don’t and it’s fine that the end result is just OK.