Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star (review)

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Dead from New York

So this is what we’ve come to: bad SNL flicks about characters who never even appeared on SNL.

You know how it works. You take a one-note, one-joke character — like, oh, TV Remote Control Hogging Man — who might have been funny the first time he appeared on Saturday Night Live, though this is not necessarily a requirement. Then you make sure the character has been thoroughly beaten to death by the writers and the actor — who, eight years into his stint on the show, is starting to look like he wants to shoot himself; where o where has his career gone? Take those same tired writers and that same tired actor and team them up on a “surefire” hit comedy movie. The fact that all of them are sick to death of doing the same one joke 17,000 times will not deter them from trotting it once more, only now, in order to pad out to 87 minutes the shenanigans of a character who cannot even sustain a 3-minute sketch, things like overblown sentimentality and bizarrely unbelievable romance will be grafted onto the obvious, juvenile humor.

It’s unintentional, of course, because Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star could not have any weight if cowriters David Spade and Fred Wolf (not surprisingly, a longtime SNL writer) had grafted the core of the planet Earth onto it, but it feels like there’s years of SNL boredom and exhaustion behind it. And not in a good way, like how you might imagine would be the case with a movie about a former child star who today can’t even coast on his past success no matter how desperately he tries. It makes you long to see what the Coen Brothers would do with such an idea.

And the boredom doesn’t just move in one direction — it doesn’t just emanate off the screen. From the opening scene, Dickie Roberts feels old for us, too, like we’ve seen it all before, like we know exactly what’s going to happen. Of course Dickie will reenergize his career and find true love and, I swear upon every crappy Very Special Episode and every sticky-sweet CBS Sunday Night Movie, he will actually learn the true meaning of Christmas.

How such melodrama is supposed to sit nicely next to over-the-top, exaggerated slapstick humor I’ll never understand, but this is hardly limited to bad SNL movies — the mistake of trying to be all things at once is endemic to Hollywood comedies today (see: Uptown Girls). We’re supposed to accept such absurdities as the idea that an overgrown manchild can finally get past his prolonged adolescence by reenacting the childhood he never had; and that the mom (Mary McCormack: Full Frontal, K-pax) of the “normal” family he hires to teach him how to be a kid would be so insensitive as to allow this weird, creepy stranger to sleep in the same room as her young children. Okay, it might work — there’s surely a place for a Hollywood satire in which a devoted agent (here, Jon Lovitz: Cats & Dogs, 3000 Miles to Graceland) goes so far as to donate a kidney to a famous director in order to get his client (Spade: The Emperor’s New Groove) an audition. But that place is not also in a movie in which Dickie is also suddenly sensitive enough to help his new “brother” (Scott Terra: Daredevil, Eight Legged Freaks) deal with bullies and get the pretty girl next door to like him. That place is not the same movie in which Dickie’s pretend “mom” is suddenly perceptive enough to see the desirable man in Dickie and fall in love with him. The whole falling-in-love happy-ending ending is so unlikely after all that’s come before it that it’s the only funny thing in the film.

It’s called a tone. Someone needed to find one here and stick with it.

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