Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star
Director : Sam Weisman
Screenplay : Fred Wolf & David Spade
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2003
Stars : David Spade (Dickie Roberts), Mary McCormack (Grace Tracy), Jenna Boyd (Sally Tracy), Scott Terra (Sam Tracy), Craig Bierko (George Tracy), Jon Lovitz (Sidney), Alyssa Milano (Cyndi), Edie McClurg (Neighbor), Ambyr Childers (Barbie), Rob Reiner (Himself), Danny Bonaduce (Himself), Dustin Diamond (Himself), Corey Feldman (Himself), Leif Garrett (Himself), Emmanuel Lewis (Himself), Barry Williams (Himself)
Like so many movies by graduates from Saturday Night Live, Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star is much funnier in its conception than in its execution. The idea seems perfect, especially given the obsession of campy-serious programs like VH-1’s Behind the Music and The E! True Hollywood Story about the tragic life trajectories of kids who were once the toast of Tinseltown, but now wallow in either obscurity or notoriety. Yet, that is precisely the problem with the movie. Dickie Roberts is a satirical riff on something that is, frankly, much funnier and weirder in reality. Five minutes of Corey Feldman’s misplaced vanity and ridiculous tear-jerking on The Surreal Life is infinitely more hilarious than all the jokes star and cowriter David Spade can come up with in the movie.
Dickie Roberts takes the form of an E! True Hollywood Story, starting with a brief rundown of the eponymous star’s brief tenure in the spotlight as the pint-sized star of a fictional ’70s-era TV sitcom The Glimmer Gang, in which he had the unlikely catchphrase “This is nucking futs!” Fast-forward nearly 30 years, and Dickie (David Spade), long since abandoned by his fickle mother, is parking cars at a fancy restaurant and longing for another shot at stardom. The best he can manage at this point is a bout of celebrity boxing, in which he gets thoroughly thrashed by former Webster star Emmanuel Lewis, who, come to think of it, was also funnier on The Surreal Life than he is here. Dickie spends his nights playing poker with other former child stars, including Danny Bonaduce, Dustin Diamond, Barry Williams, Leif Garrett, and Corey Feldman, all of whom appear (rather woodenly) as themselves.
Although his struggling agent (Jon Lovitz) can’t land him any decent gigs, Dickie gets wind of a role in a highly anticipated upcoming Rob Reiner film (apparently, this was written before Reiner’s romantic stinker Alex & Emma). Reiner (playing himself) agrees to see Dickie, but tells him that he doesn’t have what it takes to play the role because he never lived a normal childhood. So, Dickie strikes on the idea of paying a “normal” family to let him live with them for a month so he can relive a childhood he never had.
Thus, most of the movie takes place at the picture-perfect residence of the Tracy family, where Dickie moves in with upper-middle-class George (Craig Bierko) and Grace (Mary McCormack) and their two kids, Sam (Scott Terra) and Sally (Jenna Boyd). At first, no one wants Dickie in the house except George, an ambitious used car salesman who wants Dickie’s $20,000 and also to use him for car dealer commercials. But, wouldn’t you know that the former child star, despite having grown up into a selfish, immature, compulsive-glove-wearing mess, still has enough charm to win over the family and help them overcome their own problems? He helps mom be more assertive, aids Sam in asking out the cute girl who moves in next door, and teaches Sally some good dance moves that help her win a spot on the pom-pom squad.
Spade and cowriter Fred Wolf seem to have written two different movies in Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, one of which is a satire of Hollywood’s fickle nature and the other of which is a sappy ode to family togetherness and the power of love. To truly work, this movie needed to be caustic throughout, but the worst it gets is making fun of Brad Pitt and George Clooney for being too good-looking. After all, this is a movie that’s competing with an onslaught of guiltily captivating TV docudramas that are far more entertainingly sleazy and (un)intentionally funny. Dickie is a mess, true, but he doesn’t come anywhere close to representing how Hollywood can spit up and chew out even the most cherished celebrities. Spade clearly had fun with the role, as it allows to him play up both his characteristic self-centeredness and his penchant for sentimentality.
However, what is most surprising is the way the movie’s seeming ace-up-the-sleeve—its inclusion of scores of real-life former child stars—is one of its biggest weaknesses. Watching these now-grown kids play themselves in a movie that’s essentially making fun of them is more uncomfortable than it is amusing. When they’re on E! telling their sob stories, it’s engrossing entertainment—real life as a mediated carnival sideshow. But, once removed and placed into a fictional movie, their stories lose their giddy kick and seem more sad than funny.
Copyright © 2003 James Kendrick