Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star review by Mike Long

Every movie begins with an idea -- usually of the "Wouldn't it be cool if...?" variety. The value of the idea rarely has any direct correlation to the quality of the finished film. Some movies begin with a insipid idea and grow to be great films. While others seem inspired, but yield only mediocre results. Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star falls into that second category, as the film's fantastic premise never fulfills its promise.

David Spade stars in the titular role in Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star. Dickie starred on a television show called "The Glimmer Gang" (where his catch-phrase was "Nuckin' Futs!") up until age 6, and at the time, enjoyed a great deal of celebrity. But, when the show was cancelled, his mom left him and so did the fans. Now, thirty years later, Dickie is a washed-up has been who works as a valet, dresses like a low-rent pimp, and constantly wears gloves due to his fear of germs. Dickie gets word that Rob Reiner is making a new film entitled "Mr. Blake's Backyard" and he is determined to get the lead role and is actually able to score a meeting with Reiner. Reiner tells Dickie that he can't get any adults roles because he didn't have a normal childhood and makes the off-the-cuff remark that Dickie would need to re-live his childhood in order to be normal.

Dickie takes this comment seriously and decides to hire a family to teach him about childhood. He moves in with The Finney's; George (Craig Bierko), Grace (Mary McCormack), Sam (Scott Terra), and Sally (Jenna Boyd). George is a sleazy car-salesman and is only interested in Dickie's money (which he got from selling his auto-biography). George made the deal with Dickie without consulting Grace, so thus, she is furious. The two kids, Sam and Sally, are weary of Dickie and maintain their distance from him. As the Dickie observes The Finney's day-to-day lives, he begins to understand what he missed as a child and the meaning of family. But, can the family endure his bizarre behavior long enough for his experiment to work?

Placing the acerbic David Spade in the role of a has-been child actor is a stroke of genius. Spade has always exuded an intense amount of sarcasm and misanthropy in his roles in films and on Saturday Night Live, so the thought of him playing a character who hates the world because he feels that his fans deserted him is perfect. The problem is that the film doesn't take this idea to its extremes. As portrayed here, Dickie is a conundrum. He's a out-of-work loser who can't get a break, and he's clearly bitter about that. But, the bitterness varies from scene-to-scene, so for the majority of the film, Dickie comes off as simply a weirdo. The movie contains cameos by real-life child stars, such as Danny Bonaduce, Dustin Diamond, Emmanuel Lewis and many others, but there is a surprising limited amount of Hollywood in-jokes. Once Dickie moves in with The Finney's, the film turns into more of a domestic comedy. And, I didn't find the much lauded end-credit sequence to be very funny. Basically, the film is much tamer that I thought it would be.

But, that's not to say that Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star doesn't have its moments. If you can tolerate David Spade at all (and I know that many of you can't) then you'll probably find some amusing moments in the film. The film's sudden shift to a spoof of Leave it to Beaver is jarring, but the home-based scenes do yield some amusing moments. The problem with the film is that much of it is played far too broad. There are several subtle moments, where Spade reels it in, that are worth seeing -- and most of these involve Dickie terrorizing the neighbors. Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star doesn't necessarily waste its great idea, but the movie goes off into an unexpected direction. The movie isn't the biting satire that I'd expected, but Spade is great in the title role and the film does has some funny scenes.

Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star surfaces on DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film is being released on DVD in two separate formats -- full-frame and widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, but the picture shows an amazing amount of dirt from the source material, and an abundance of black spots are visible in every scene. Otherwise the colors are good, as director Sam Weisman has filled the movie with many bright and pastel colors. There are some artifacting elements, but they aren't as distracting at the black marks. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 (192 kbps) audio track. The track is solid, but not remarkable. It provides clear dialogue with no distortion. There are some moments of surround sound action, mostly from sound effects, but for the most part, the audio comes from the center and front channels.

The DVD contains many special features. The disc contains two audio commentaries. The first is provided by director Sam Weisman, who speaks at length throughout the film. Weisman's talk is a bit dry, but he does a good job of discussing the film's production, pointing out interesting location, and praising his stars. The second commentary comes from star David Spade and co-writer/producer Fred Wolf. This chat is a disappointment, as it isn't very entertaining. This duo talk about the script and what it was like to work with the real-life child stars, but knowing these two, I had expected this commentary to be much funnier. The funny does arrive with "Reel Comedy: Dickie Roberts. This 17-minute Comedy Central special features Spade and actor Craig Bierko discussing the film and introducing clips. While their banter is funny, the real joy comes from appearances by Todd Bridges, Erin Moran, Emmanuel Lewis, Barry Williams and Adam Rich, as these former child stars re-create some famous movie scenes. Next up is "The True Hollywood Story" (16 minutes), which is your standard "making of" featurette, offering behind-the-scenes footage and comments from the cast and crew. Spade and Wolf re-appear to discuss the script in "Pencil Dickie: Writing the Story" (12 minutes). There is a 7-minute extended version of the "Child Stars on Your Television" song from the end credits, as well as a 7-minute segment explaining how this song was coordinated. The DVD contains 9 deleted scenes, including an alternate ending, some of which are funny. Finally, the trailer for Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star is included here, letterboxed at 1.85:1.

5 out of 10 Jackasses

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