Former Child Star
(released September 2003)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Reviewed by H. W. Moss
There are some moderately entertaining moments in "Dickie Roberts" which stars David Spade as the eponymous main character, a former gap-toothed child television star with a famous tag line, "This is Nucking Futs," who as a 35-year-old has become a cynical, sullen and neurotic parking lot attendant.
Unfortunately, the movie is not consistent in its comedy or its thrust. Although the film boasts a huge number of Hollywood helpers, cameos by Brandon Frazer, Tom Arnold and Dick Van Patten for example, and a wide array of contemporary adults once known as child actors, the film misses its mark primarily because it fails to identify a target. Is it aimed at adults or children, children or adults
There must be a certain amount of truth behind the observation that kids who grew up in front of a camera, be they orphans of the silver screen, such as Shirley Temple or Mickey Rooney, or the tiny box, lose a part of their childhood. What that part is, whether it's mothering or normal schooling or getting their first bicycle, is the object of discovery for Dickie who believes he will make a come-back when he gets a part in a movie being cast by Rob Reiner (as himself) called "Mr. Blake's Back Yard." Reiner advises Dickie he cannot have the part because he is "not a real person. For you to research the part you'd have to find out what it is to be normal."
With that, Dickie digs up the money to hire a family which will allow him to move in with their two kids, Sam (Scott Terra) and Sally (Jenna Boyd), in order to learn how they are growing up so he can grow up. This is where the film breaks down and the result is an occasional chuckle or amusing moment capped by a, go figure, typical happy Hollywood ending.
David Spade has an unusual way of approaching this role: he plays himself playing himself. Although the plot follows Dickie as he learns the games of youth, he has no humility and never pretends to be a child, merely an adult trying to do what children do. Anyone can follow a teenager around for the day, but it takes a talented actor to become that teenager. Spade never makes an attempt with the result that there is little drama and no suspense in this screenplay which he co-wrote.
Mom (Mary McCormack) goes along with the stunt because Dad (George Bierko) needs the money. Dickie sets up a waterbed between the youngsters' beds and proceeds to interrupt their lives. There are embarrassing moments at the dinner table such as when Dickie comments that with their help, "I'll nail that part like Jesus the carpenter." However, there is a limit to the types of childhood silliness Spade can invent and things might be heading to a peaceful ending until Cyndi (Alyssa Milano), Dickie's former girlfriend who dumped him in the desert when their old car died, shows up to rock the boat.
The truth behind the lives of many former child stars represented in this film would undoubtedly have made a better story. But then, it wouldn't have been a comedy although it would not necessarily have been a tragedy either. After all, Danny Bonaduce, youngest Partridge Family cast member who plays himself in "Dickie," has become a successful radio talk show host.
Then there is the missing real mother who ran out on Dickie, we are told, shortly after his show folded. "My mom loved me when I was a star," he complains with his hands encased in a pair of gloves he always wears. The writers missed a shot here. Bring Mom back and go after all the other driven mothers who, it has been said, are the force behind every child star.
The film must strike a chord with the many talented people who were type cast as children and never lived it down. Lots of them, from Emmanuel Lewis to Leif Garret, have roles in this sarcastic take on how their lives turned out. Dickie is pals with a number of them. He plays poker with a bunch of former child stars: Corey Feldman, Barry Williams, Dustin Diamond, Bonaduce and Garrett.
When the film ends few will leave the theater before the credits are finished because, as a number of directors have discovered, if you give the audience something worth watching or listening to, "The Piano Player" is an excellent example, they will stay. A chorus of twenty-one former child stars, including but not limited to Tony Dow, Erin Moran, Charlene Tilton, Ernest Thomas, Butch Patrick and Rodney Allen Rippy, all sing lyrics to a song which describe encounters with the public as adults, how they feel about being out of work and the fact they loved being invited into our homes every week.
This almost makes "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star" worth the price of admission.
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