Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star

Illustration for article titled Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star

Watch E! long enough, and it will eventually cycle around to the E! True Hollywood Story of former child star Scott Schwartz, the kid immortalized when he got his tongue stuck to a lamppost in A Christmas Story. After his childhood acting career faded, Schwartz tried to stay in the game, eventually tumbling into the world of pornography, first behind the camera, then in non-sex roles, then making a debut, of sorts, with Scotty's X-Rated Adventure. Toward the end of his hour on E!, Schwartz discusses his great comeback hope, a sequel to his one starring vehicle, the 1982 kid-flick The Toy. Talking earnestly about interest from big-name stars, Schwartz seems oblivious to the fact that his Toy co-star Jackie Gleason is dead, Richard Pryor has been incapacitated by illness, and the film itself exists mostly as a distant memory. Who could satirize that? Maybe that's why the David Spade comedy Dickie Roberts barely even tries to send up the world of washed-up child stars, instead substituting enormous dollops of sentiment where bite might be expected. Spade co-wrote the film with former Saturday Night Live writer Fred Wolf; the pair last teamed for Joe Dirt, which, like Dickie Roberts, devotes its first 10 minutes to making fun of its cartoonish protagonist, then spends the rest of the film attempting to milk sympathy from him. Spade plays the eponymous former child star, a '70s-sitcom fixture who now works as a valet for a fancy restaurant and plays cards with professional wash-ups Danny Bonaduce, Barry Williams, Dustin Diamond, and others. The film opens on Spade bottoming out, losing a Celebrity Boxing match to pint-sized sitcom refugee Emmanuel Lewis. From there, it might have made sense to plunge into the world of the celebrity underclass: those who found fame, lost it, and are cursed to attempts at regaining it. Instead, the film gives Spade a long-shot audition for a high-concept Rob Reiner movie called Mr. Blake's Backyard, about a man who literally discovers heaven in his own backyard. (As lousy as that sounds, it couldn't be worse than Reiner's The Story Of Us.) The director is concerned that Spade doesn't have enough life experience to play a three-dimensional character, so Spade hires a family to take him in and give him the childhood he never had. What follows mixes Billy Madison-inspired back-to-childhood shenanigans with a creepy quasi-incestuous subplot, as Spade sleazily woos his new "mom" (Mary McCormack, giving a performance much more thoughtful than the film deserves). Spade can still be funny when he lets himself be mean, and Dickie Roberts shows glimmers of that dynamic, but they're muscled out by lazy slapstick and maudlin stuff that wouldn't look out of place in Mr. Blake's Backyard. The morbidly curious, however, might want to stick around for credits featuring a "We Are The World"-style performance of former child stars from My Three Sons' Ernie to Rerun from What's Happening!! Obscurity beckons for their hasty return.

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