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Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star

(2003) * 1/2 Pg-13
99 min. distributer. Director: Sam Weisman. Cast: David Spade, Jon Lovitz, Alyssa Milano, Doris Roberts, Craig Bierko.

A run-of-the-mill feel-dumb comedy, Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star takes a potentially funny (if dangerously played-out) premise and grinds it into Saturday Night Live-movie mulch. Early in this David Spade vehicle (yes, Hollywood still makes them, though not, I'd guess, for long), Spade looks down on a flaming car wreck. Feel free to make up your own joke.

The title explains the basic idea, the premise being that Dickie, the self-described "complete and total mess" played by Spade, must manufacture a normal childhood to replace his bizarrely pampered, drug-riddled youth and come to understand normal and healthy human relationships. Dickie is under the gun, with a looming potential audition for Rob Reiner's new movie as the career-comeback stake. So Dickie shacks up with an average American family (likeable Mary McCormack plays Mom) to learn how to live and love.

The sentimental romance film Dickie wants to score becomes the film's mirage in an arid comedy desert. As bad as it sounds, it could hardly be worse than a cavalcade of limp cameos by former child stars, none of whom went away long enough to be missed. Spade mocks and celebrates this exclusive club by constituting a poker party with Corey Feldman, Dustin "Screech" Diamond, Danny Bonaduce, and Barry Williams, sparring with Emmanuel Lewis, and rounding up the rest in a film-closing mock telethon song. Alyssa Milano plays Dickie's harridan girlfriend, and to do it all to death, Spade and co-writer Fred Wolf frame it all as an E! True Hollywood Story.

Spade became famous skewering washed-up celebrities in his "Hollywood Minute" routine on Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update." Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star is, of course, exactly the sort of crappy movie for which Spade, in his heydey, would ridicule other stars. Ironically, one of Spade's few breakout moments in Dickie Roberts is an adrenalized riff on "Hollywood Minute," aiming zingers at a band of bullies (Grade 8 Mile?). Spade's laconic comedic change-ups have--for the most part--lost their novel energy and zing.

Though the movie slowly acrcues some amusing moments (Dickie's childlike affection for Christopher Cross's "Ride Like the Wind" comes to mind) and feigns to tug the heart, it's all a slapdash sham of extended-skit jokery, unconvincing characters, and fake emotion. Director Sam Weisman shoots the sorry enterprise in panoramic widescreen, perhaps to underscore--wrongly, I might add--how much better his rhythmless, unfunny movie is than the TV sitcom pap the movie is meant to skewer. It's a movie all right: the kind people sneak into or flip past on cable.

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