By: Erik Swift
Most ‘Saturday Night Live’ alums – like many small-screen talents – have a difficult time making the transition into film. For every “Animal House,” “Happy Gilmore” or “Wayne’s World” there are dozens of crapfests like “Stuart Saves His Family” or (shudder) “The Master Of Disguise.” Knowing this, it’s hard not to approach Paramount Pictures’ “Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star” with caution. Warnings aside, this shapes up into one of the more entertaining entries in the post-SNL career of David Spade.
The film sharply skews the lifelong train wreck endured by the boob tube’s youngest icons, beginning and ending “True Hollywood Story”-style. “Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star” stars Spade as a faded celebrity decades past his prime….at 35. Once his angelic face adorned magazine covers and lunch boxes. Now Spade’s Dickie is relegated to parking cars for a living, but only because his boss knows his employee’s work. His girlfriend Cyndi (Alyssa Milano) dumps him on the side of a highway and no one wants his autograph, even if he offers cash. Roberts’ confidence is hysterically low, but his flicker of hope is a Rob Reiner-directed project.
Scoring an audition, Reiner (playing himself) tells Dickie that the lack of a normal childhood prevents him from getting the part. Not wanting to blow the shot at a potential comeback, Dickie must relive his childhood normally. To do this, he decides to hire a family. Placing a classified ad, he chooses the Finneys, led by car salesman George (Craig Bierko) and dedicated mom Grace (Mary McCormack). Being sung to sleep at night, riding a bike, having meals together and playing in a park have never been a part of Roberts’ life since his mother left him after the spotlights dimmed. As the couple’s children (Scott Terra of “Daredevil” and Jenna Boyd, fresh from “The Missing”) gradually warm up to Dickie’s intrusion, you know the rest.
Spade doesn’t usually get a shot at the top, but he hits a home run here in part because he’s not only believable in the role but he has a great supporting cast. Jon Lovitz nearly steals the show as Dickie’s less-than-stellar agent Sidney, and Milano and especially McCormack shine in what could otherwise turn into generic roles. It also helps to have a witty script provided by Spade and Fred Wolf, highlighted by an uproarious poker game between Spade, Corey Feldman, Leif Garrett, Danny Bonaduce, Barry Williams and Dustin Diamond. The film is chock full of cameos – Tom Arnold, Brendan Fraser, Dick Van Patten and Emmanuel Lewis appear but the closing credits and DVD extras are the mother lode. Singing the song “We Are Child Stars,” Tony Dow, Gary Coleman, Florence Henderson a.k.a. Mrs. Brady, Ron Palillo, Butch Patrick, the late Fred Berry and even an F-bomb-dropping Maureen McCormick get in on a song about respect-seeking former child stars.
Outside of a better-than-average gag reel, there are some great deleted scenes here (Lewis’ pre-Celebrity Boxing sound bite being the best). Unlike “Joe Dirt,” don’t wait to view this on cable. “Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star” bucks that trend.