Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star (2003)

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This film as a bad reputation, and that makes me a little sad, because it is not nearly as bad as people try and suggest it is. Compared to what David Spade did on Saturday Night Live and in film in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star is not a great film. Compared to what David Spade has done since, Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star is a masterpiece.

The worst part about a bad film is that very often they have very promising stories that just are abandoned for stupidity or schmaltz or just bad filmmaking. Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star has a brilliant idea behind it – child stars are an extraordinarily brand of celebrity, and some fade completely, while others just never leave. Only very few ever find success, and those who aren’t on TMZ every second day, or dead from drugs, lead very unfortunate lives – while many beloved actors who find fame in adulthood are able to remain relevant and loved until their deaths, child stars face the dreaded curse of “he/she just isn’t cute anymore” and they fade into obscurity. That is essentially what Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star tries to show – and has a premise perfect for any talented comedic actor to sink his teeth into. I believe that if the role had been played by then-box office god Jim Carrey, or Bill Murray or even someone more serious like Kevin Spacey, this film would be a new comedic classic. Unfortunately, David Spade is someone people love to hate, and while I am not big fan of him either, here he is actually quite endearing and isn’t nearly as bad as people say he is.

Perhaps Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star has its rightful place being slightly forgotten. It could be worse – it could be reviled as one of the worst films ever made, and could have been critical poison to Spade’s career, who could have been seen as the new Adam Sandler and been paid billions to make trash. Instead, he kinda just…disappeared. He pops up every now and then in a Sandler film, but hasn’t headlined a big film in over a decade. He is returning to one of his most despised roles with the sequel to Joe Dirt, but thankfully enough, he didn’t have his career tarnished quite like Sandler’s. I am a notorious critic of Adam Sandler, and I do think that his name being attached to this film might be a bit of a curse (he served as a producer). I won’t go into details about my feelings towards Sandler, and will instead say this – Spade can thank his lucky stars he didn’t make his career off trash, because I do think there will come the right role for Spade one day, and he could have his McConaughey moment, and it is far too late for Sandler…for now.

Some mainstream films would have been far better as indie films. This film is an indie film in a mainstream shell. This film practically begs to be as edgy a showbiz satire as something like Swimming with Sharks or The Player. Instead, it becomes too muddled and introduces one of the main carnal sins of cinema – schmaltz. False sentimentality is something almost unforgivable and dreadfully boring. The first half of Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star is absolutely stellar – the cameos by former child stars, the childish interactions between Dickie and the kids and just the general satire of it all. Then when Craig Bierko’s character, one of the most boring and one-dimensional villains, runs off with Dickie’s girlfriend, another useless character played by Alyssa Milano, it takes a huge nosedive and becomes just a big ball of sugar mixed with syrup, and because of how well the film was going, it becomes false, and a clear attempt to both cash in on the emotion of the proletariat viewer and to give an easy ending to a wonderfully satirical film. Ending a film in an original way is difficult, and I think there are a set number of endings that films just choose from. This one is the worst example of “jerk tries to achieve dream, eventually achieves dream and then gives it up and becomes a good person”, which is just as bad as “underdog sports team get a motivational speech from their coach and win the game” – and for that, this film should technically be damned for all eternity, because while I have no problem with sentimentality, it has to be genuine, and this was just lazy and false schmaltz…

…but I have a soft spot for this film. I watched it when it came out and I was much younger than I was now and found it quite fun. Rewatching it, I worried the childhood filter would prove disastrous as I didn’t think it would hold up in my older years now. I was pleased to find my worries were unfounded, because the film isn’t quite as funny as it was when I was younger, but it wasn’t any worse than before. I knew all the twists and turns the film took, but those were a combination of them just being lazy cliches and just plain predictable. I didn’t hate the film on a rewatch as much as I thought I would, and that’s why I like this film more than most people.

In the end, Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star is not a terrible film, but its not a great film either. But its not even an average film – it is slightly above average. It could have been a comedic masterpiece with some fine-tuning and a little bit of effort, and I am being very lenient towards this film. I quite liked it, and I am one of a few people who don’t despise David Spade, and think his schtick could work wonders with the right director. Its not close to being a great film, but I am going to say it had the capacity to be one, which is why I am not ripping it apart. It is surely a divisive film, but I do like.

Oh, and most of the modestly high score comes from the absolutely genius song at the end, which, if the entire film had that tone, would have made me classify it as a masterpiece. The entire film is worth it for the song I’d say…

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