'Dickie Roberts' Fails to Revive Spade's Comic Career
By Jeremy Mathews

“Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star”
Paramount Pictures
Directed by Sam Weisman
Written by Fred Wolf and David Spade
Produced by Adam Sandler and Jack Giarraputo
Starring David Spade, Mary McCormack, Jon Lovitz, Craig Bierko, Alyssa Milano and Rob Reiner
Rated PG-13

(out of four)

“Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star” starts with a somewhat amusing sequence and ends with a somewhat clever end-credit sequence. Everything in between misses the opportunity for Hollywood satire and fails to examine the public’s perception of child stars. It’s one clumsy, poorly conceived slapstick sequence after another, punctuated with moments of overdone sentimentality.

  While David Spade looks like he's masturbating here, he is pleasuring neither himself nor the audience in his latest vehicle, "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star."

David Spade, who rarely seems to make films with people who have senses of humor, plays the title character, who pays a family to treat him like a child. Rob Reiner, playing himself, might give Dickie a role if he can learn a little something about life and understand the point of a film that starts shooting soon.

The film opens with a short imitation of an “E! True Hollywood Story” clip in which a kid who looks a bit too much like Macaulay Culkin is shown in snapshots with his cruel, moneyhungry mother and no father. After the network canceled Dickie’s show, his mom left him and he became a compulsive glove-wearer.

The first sign that the screenwriters neglected their duties to comedy is his signature line, “That’s nucking futs.” Once several people see Dickie and say the line to him, it’s clear that it’s no “What you talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” Besides the obvious point that no network in the ’70s would allow that catchphrase, no one in the film seems to really believe that Dickie said it. It’s not so ridiculous that it’s funny, it’s just stupid.

Then we see him in a predictable celebrity-boxing match with Emmanuel Lewis from “Webster” and realize that the film has no juice behind it. Watching an unlikely celebrity beat up a film’s hero is a tired task that’s been overused in recent years. Maybe it would have worked better if Dickie for some reason became too angry at Lewis and beat him silly, earning a reputation as a madman.

Instead, the movie just becomes stupider and stupider. Cameos, which exhibit the desperation of many child stars, weigh down the paper-thin story.

If the introduction is an homage to the “News on the March” sequence in “Citizen Kane,” a poker game with Dickie, Leif Garrett, Corey Feldman, Dustin Diamond and many other child stars resembles the “waxworks” bridge game in “Sunset Boulevard.” But perhaps I’m giving the filmmakers a bit too much credit, as anyone who has seen a Billy Wilder film would likely have a better sense of comedy.

The longest—and weakest—part of the film comes when Reiner tells Dickie that he can’t play the part because he isn’t wise to the ways of the world. He decides to sell his memoirs and use the money to pay a family to replace his lost youth. The rarely seen father (Craig Bierko) makes arrangements for Dickie to stay, but doesn’t mention it to his wife (Mary McCormack), who happens to be pretty enough to be Dickie’s romantic interest.

While the house looks nice from the outside, the son and daughter—and now Dickie—sleep in the same room, an accommodation few parents would allow for $20,000.

Soon, Dickie becomes a father figure to the kids while he learns what it’s like to be loved.

Perhaps if the writers, Spade and Fred Wolf, spent more time thinking about what makes the child-star phenomenon interesting, they could have made a film with a consistent tone. Instead, the film shifts from cruelly making fun of its characters to saccharine scenes in which Dickie bonds with the kids and discovers the meaning of life and love.

The film’s studio, Paramount, is releasing “The School of Rock” in a month. That film proves that a balance can indeed be found in a mildly crude comedy with child actors. All “Dickie Roberts” proves is that a concept doesn’t make the movie.

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