September 11, 2003

Dickie Roberts

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Convoluted and saccharin, Dickie Roberts tries to be a satire with heart but ultimately ends up a confusing foray into self-indulgence that meets neither of its goals.

True at least to its title, Dickie Roberts (David Spade) is a former child star. His once colorful life now reduced to playing poker with fellow “has-beens” and valet parking cars for a restaurant, Dickie yearns for the fabled Hollywood comeback that could put him on top. When he finally gets an audition for “the role of a lifetime,” he is passed over due to his unusual childhood. Undiscouraged, Dickie decides to hire a family and relive the normalcy he traded for fame. Enter the Finneys, an all-American nuclear family unit, complete with dog and SUV. Set up to be a light-hearted comedy, Dickie Roberts misses its point simply because it tries to have one. Dickie’s Hollywood is a town where going to support group meetings is all it takes to catch celebrities while the Finney’s neighborhood is permanently basking in the warm glow of a summer afternoon. Director Sam Weisman’s subtle, mocking, vision of all that typifies American life is effective because we’re all in on the joke. However, the formula fails when he attempts to infuse a sitcom worthy “moral of the story,” which not only detracts from fluid storytelling but also the overall comedic effect.

The film is supplemented with a screenplay co-written by Fred Wolf and Spade that sharply resembles Spade’s personal style. Ranting monologues and impish defiance flavor the script, both of which are devices often employed by Spade in other mediums. Making most of the humor dependent on Sapde’s character actually marks the downfall of the film simply because Spade lacks the gusto to wield such responsibility. Spade’s Dickie is neither the lovable ruffian nor the underdog we want to cheer for. The apathy, which Spade is so well-known for, hurts him in this situation because it incites a mirrored response from the audience to the detriment of Weisman’s attempt to tug on your heartstrings.

Spade is best when he plays comedy dry. Detached and deadpan, he is initially effective as the disillusioned, washed-up star but comes up short when he tries to successfully transition into a caring leading man. This attempted transformation is awkward and disjointed, selling out the film’s initially cheeky look inside the life of a former celebrity.

The Finney family is crafted with minimal imagination, right down to Sally Finney’s (Jenna Boyd) Marcia-esque platinum blonde tresses. Mary McCormack as Grace Finney, the mother, is chronically rushed and actually becomes an interesting contrast to Spade’s laid-back style with an intensity that most of the film lacks. However, the rest of the Finney family are poorly disguised plot devices who set up Dickie’s introduction to various childhood norms.

With an interesting premise and a promising hook, Dickie Roberts had the potential to be a smart comedy with a caustic edge. But, its satirical message, if it even had one, becomes lost beneath the recycled “lesson of the day” it tries to force on the audience. Throw in a star without the clout or comedic range to shoulder the burdens of being a leading man and you have a movie that is at best, just another rerun.

Archived article by Tracy Zhang