David Spade has made a handsome career playing obnoxious boy-men, but I suppose that doesn’t distinguish him much from Adam Sandler, Jon Lovitz, Rob Schneider, the late Chris Farley – or, come to think of it, every boy-man comedian on ”SNL” who has spun skit shtick into a feature movie and, whether or not his movie sucked, gotten the go-ahead to make more. What does distinguish Spade within the field of lucrative obnoxiosity, however, is his expertise in the area of yuppie self-regard – that, and his object-of-obsession shaggy blond hair, which he uses as much as his supercilious delivery to convey cartoon vanity.
The tresses, the smeared-on smugness, and the persona of entitlement coming from a striver who doesn’t realize he’s a loser all have their uses in Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, a self-absorbed comedy that presumes the condition of striver-loserhood in every famous kid actor on a TV show who ever had the bad luck to develop secondary sex characteristics.
The fictional Dickie was, back in the 1970s, a hideous cutie on a family sitcom – his ”Cowabunga!”-like phrase that stuck with the charmed public was ”That’s nucking futs!” But he didn’t even get to the voice-cracking stage before his show was canceled; his mother abandoned him like an agent dumping a dud client; and his sense of lovability got confused with the perks of celebrity. At the age of 35, Dickie is a parking valet but still a star in his own mind, just waiting for the right comeback vehicle.
And this, he decides, will be a new movie to be directed by Rob Reiner (playing himself). Except that, as Reiner explains, the role requires a performance by an actor who understands what a normal childhood is like. So Dickie hires a family with whom he pretends to be a regular kid: He bunks at the wholesome home of the Finneys (Mary McCormack, Craig Bierko, Scott Terra, and Jenna Boyd) – ”real” folks who teach Dickie the right way to eat breakfast and to believe in the excitement of Christmas morning, and who represent all that other bogus stuff that TV has been fooling us into thinking is real life for over half a century.
The interaction of Spade and the cookie-cutter Finney siblings is refreshing, a nice chance for the star to riff off mature kids instead of other immature adults. But there’s a whole other less comfortable transaction taking place within this comedy (written by Spade and his regular ”SNL”-bred collaborator Fred Wolf, and directed by veteran ”Family Ties” topper Sam Weisman), ”Dickie Roberts” is mobbed with real former child stars, playing ”themselves” – or at least what they think is what we think is what they think of themselves.
Dickie’s regular poker buddies include Leif Garrett, Danny Bonaduce, and Corey Feldman, who sit around ragging on current viable stars like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Vin Diesel. (Emmanuel Lewis makes an appearance as an FCS who bests Dickie in a celebrity boxing match.) A ”We Are the World”-inspired chorus of real former players shows up at the end to sing ”We loved being child stars,” and then to fake-shock us with crude language.
The number of levels on which these pros trade on their diminished reputations makes the movie an inside joke rather than a funny one. If Spade thinks otherwise, he’s nucking futs.