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Film review: Spade is 'Dickie Roberts'

By STEVE SAILER, UPI National Correspondent   |   Sept. 7, 2003 at 4:35 PM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 7 (UPI) -- I certainly hope you don't feel the way I do, but a part of me believes that anybody who was ever a star somehow deserves to never have to work again in a non-celebrity capacity. I hope I'm alone in experiencing involuntary repugnance at the thought of former television personalities having to do honest work, but I fear I'm not.

We Americans like to kid ourselves that we have a strong Work Ethic, but since perhaps the Gold Rush of 1849, we've instead had the world's leading Get Rich Quick Dream. I think we'd rather hear that somebody we once idolized has died in a crack house (ah, the tragic price of fame!) than learn that he's writing COBOL code in Cincinnati (ugh, the boring ignominy of anonymity!).

Fortunately, even after they're washed up, our American celebrities have so many opportunities to cash in by letting us bask in their reflected glory that they seldom let us down quite that much. For example, I've long followed the charmed life of Mike Eruzione, the amateur hockey player whose sole achievement was scoring the winning goal to beat the Soviets in the 1980 Olympics, just to see if he'll ever have to get a real job. After 23 years, he's still going strong as a motivational speaker and professional guest at charity golf tournaments.

Child stars, though, are most likely to not achieve permanent celebrityhood. Adorable little girl actresses, like Elizabeth Taylor and Drew Barrymore, often grow up to be adorable young women, but boy entertainers frequently fail dismally as adults.

Boys are less mature than girls while growing up, so producers have a hard time finding talented-enough normal lads who can, literally, act their age on screen. Therefore, they search out undersized, undersexed older boys who can play younger than their real ages. Similarly, impresarios putting together boy bands look for high-pitched singers who will seem like unthreatening "practice boyfriends" to adolescent girl fans.

Unfortunately for them, delayed puberty is not what audiences look for in adult leading men and rock stars. Many are quickly surpassed by their more manly peers and are left with no marketable skills, twisted Hollywood values, an all-consuming hunger to get back into the limelight, and a certain aura of freakishness.

Although he didn't get on television until his mid-20s, David Spade -- the snippy little blond receptionist on the sitcom "Just Shoot Me!" -- is perfectly cast in the not-too-bad comedy "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star."

There's not much of a market on TV for fairly androgynous heterosexuals, but what there is, Spade has had cornered since he started on Saturday Night Live in 1990. (His career peak was probably the 1995 comedy "Tommy Boy" with the late Chris Farley.) In his stand-up act and this movie he co-wrote with SNL scribe Fred Wolf, Spade emphasizes both his innate lack of masculinity and the effeminizing effect of being in showbiz -- the jealous gossiping and obsession with your looks.

Dickie Roberts is a 35-year-old valet parker whose TV show was canceled 23 long years ago, causing his mother to leave him. He's paying the rent by getting pummeled by 3'-4" Emmanuel Lewis of "Webster" fame in celebrity boxing matches.

Dickie hopes to make his comeback in a hotly anticipated Rob Reiner movie. (Apparently, this is a period piece.) But Reiner won't let him audition, saying, "Dickie, you're not a real person." To learn how people with healthy upbringings feel, Dickie hires a suburban family to let him live for a month as one of their children.

Like a lot of movie comedies, "Dickie Roberts," especially in its first half, isn't as funny as a strong sitcom. One reason is that "Dickie Roberts" was written by just two people, while TV shows bring far more manpower to bear on joke writing.

Moreover, promising sitcoms have longer to gel. For instance, "The Simpsons" organization evolved into the most perfect scriptwriting machine ever, but not until after the show's uneven first year. Thus, movie comedies are generally more slapdash than the sitcoms that make it to syndication.

In the second half, as Dickie develops a warm relationship with his temporary siblings, there's an unexpected turn away from satire and toward a sentimental family film. Oddly enough, as the movie gets soppier, it actually gets funnier. Still, it's too tawdry for children and too childish for adults.

Like a lot of comedies, if you were to stumble upon this movie flipping channels one evening, you'd probably be entertained. It's not "Tommy Boy," but it's not awful either. Unfortunately, if you have to talk somebody into going to the theater to see it with you, you'd worry too much about whether your companion hates it to enjoy it.


Rated PG-13 for crude and sex-related humor, language, and drug references.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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