Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star (2003)

10 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star” is an inspired idea for a comedy, or even a serious drama. It’s about a washed-up former child actor who attempts to get a comeback. This is actually an interesting story idea. There are a lot of former child stars whose careers ended too quickly, and for a movie about them, you can play off on the notion that they’d want a comeback. Unfortunately, “Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star” is not that movie. It’s a false attempt that could have been funny if it wasn’t so smarmy.

Dickie Roberts (David Spade) is a former child star famous for his starring role in a ‘70s TV sitcom. Now he’s working as a valet parker at a restaurant. He desperately wants a comeback and keeps telling his friends that it’s going to happen. And he thinks he can catch a break if he auditions for the lead role in the new Rob Reiner film. But Reiner (yes, the Rob Reiner playing himself) tells Dickie he’s all wrong for the part, which is just a normal person—something that Dickie never got the chance to be. Reiner says he’d have to relive his childhood, just like how actors research their roles.

And that’s what Dickie does—he hires a family in the suburbs to let him stay with them, so that he can learn what it’s like to be a kid. The two kids of the house—Sam (Scott Terra) and Sally (Jenna Boyd)—call him “Stranger Danger” and give him a hard time at first. But they befriend him, as do their mother Grace (Mary McCormack), and they help him get ready for the audition in time.

The main problem with the movie is the character of Dickie Roberts, former child star, himself. Played by David Spade (who also co-wrote the screenplay), he’s a creepy, irritating menace who is supposed to be our hero. Spade can be funny, but he just tries too hard to generate laughs. He thinks the best way to make Dickie into a lovable character is to play him as narcissistic as possible. When the movie gives us scenes in which we’re supposed to sympathize with him, it doesn’t work because of what followed. (To be fair, at least Spade tries to make us care in those scenes, particularly the scene in which he tells his agent Sidney about a memory he had with his real father—not David Soul.) Bottom line—I wanted to smack him.

The movie starts out promisingly with a mock E! Hollywood story telling the biography of Dickie. When he was a little boy, his materialistic actress mother (Doris Roberts) made him audition for everything, until he got his big break at age 6 as the center of a TV show. His catchphrase: “This is nucking futs!” (Aw, ain’t that cucking fute?) This opening skit alone is pretty funny, as we learn of rumors that David Soul (Hutch from “Starsky and Hutch”) is Dickie’s father, and get a cameo from “Eight is Enough” regular Dick Van Patten, talking about the danger of being a child star, having worked around eight…which is enough. And it’s followed by a Celebrity Boxing stint in which he gets beat up by Emmanuel “Webster” Lewis, which is also funny. But then, we get a better look at Dickie’s personality and the film becomes less funny.

The screenplay is full of sitcom clichés, mainly involving Dickie and the two kids. Dickie goes through all the motions—he tells off the school bullies, helps Sally make it into the pep squad, and aids Sam in impressing the girl next door. But even sitcoms aren’t as distasteful as the scene in which Sally auditions for the squad—you see, this is followed by a very disturbing bit in which her rival dirty-dances to “Bad” by Britney Spears. Ick!

And of course, Dickie and Grace must fall in love because that’s what happens in comedies like this. Grace’s husband George (Craig Bierko) will grow to become a jerk and leave her for Dickie’s slutty ex-girlfriend Cyndi (Alyssa Mulano), so that Dickie and Grace can be together. How convenient.

There are some things to like about “Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star.” For one thing, I really enjoyed the cameos that are scattered throughout the movie. I already mentioned Rob Reiner, who gamely plays…himself. He has some funny moments, which include his Nicholson impression. And there’s a scene in which Dickie plays poker with his friends, all former child stars—Leif Garrett, Barry Williams, Danny Bonaduce, Dustin Diamond, and Corey Feldman, all playing themselves. I liked that scene—their conversations were nice to listen to. (But dude, if I found out that Barry Williams really does carry around so many “Brady Bunch” props to bet on, I’d give him a psychiatrist’s number.)

And the best sequence in the movie comes during the end credits. It’s a video featuring a ton of former child stars, having their own song about how they’re not who they were anymore and would rather move on to other things. (Gee, if only Dickie took that route.) Among these welcome attractions are Maureen McCormick (don’t ever call her “Marcia” again!), Butch Patrick (Eddie Munster), the three Brady brothers, and Todd “Willis” Bridges (“You wanna autography, well I’m-a tell you this, don’t ask a brother when he’s takin’ a piss!”), to name a few.

There’s another laugh I got from this movie. It’s a visual gag in which Dickie tries out a Slip-n-Slide for the first time in his life. Only, on his first try, there’s no water yet. Maybe it’s because I wanted inflicted pain among this guy, but I laughed out loud.

Mary McCormack is charming in her lazily-written role as Grace and does what she can with it. I liked the two kids, who do suitable jobs. Jon Lovitz is very funny as Dickie’s agent Sidney who gives a liver if it means getting Dickie an audition. He has some of the best lines in the movie. Craig Bierko and Alyssa Mulano, however, are horribly miscast.

What’s more insulting? Just like in every other Adam-Sandler-produced film such as this, this movie tries to add a heavy dose of sentimentality for the ending. When is Sandler going to learn that it doesn’t mix with overdone slapstick comedy? OK, fine—Dickie gets what he wants, he learns the value of family, and everyone lives happily ever after. Even Dickie’s friends, who—and I’m not going to lie; this part was appealing—get roles in Dickie’s new sitcom about his life (Leif Garrett plays Dickie.) I would rather see a movie about that, or just the series. I want to watch these former child stars. Not Dickie Roberts.

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