Spade film leans on easy jokes, fails to reach maturity

Kevin Crowe

“Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star” details the life of a child who experienced a few years of success in his youth as his messy hair, crooked smile and quirky interjections endeared him to television audiences across the country. Poor ratings and a lack of funding caused the show’s cancellation after running for six years and forced Roberts to face a world that revels in entertainment at the expense of former child stars.

His mother, a failed actress herself, leaves him so she won’t have to face the humiliation of being related to a 35-year-old wash-up.

Having a hard time dealing with a fall from stardom, Roberts focuses on a number of quick schemes to try and rebound from failure. He goes so far as to make the claim that he is the son of “Starsky and Hutch” star David Soul and later takes an outrageous beating at the hands of Emmanuel Lewis in a televised boxing match.

Just as it seems that there is no way up from the bottom or the jokes about his small stature, Roberts’ poker buddy — and former teen idol — Leif Garrett tells him about a starring role in a new movie to be produced by Rob Reiner.

But there’s a catch: the part calls for a normal person who has led a normal life. Needless to say, Roberts’ first meeting with Reiner proves to be of little success as the producer tells him that the role is too much for him.

However, Roberts, not so easily beaten, hatches a scheme to hire a family to live with him for a month so he can live a childhood he never had.

The first days with the family prove to be a tougher trial than expected as the two young children, Sam (Scott Terra) and Sally (Jenna Boyd), are not very comfortable sharing their room with a stranger. Nonetheless, Roberts and the children eventually grow close as they teach him about the many facets of a child’s life.

“Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star” takes its hits at those actors we loved when we were 8 and laugh at now that we’ve grown up a bit. Though at times mocking the lives and exploits of child stars, the film develops the more human side of the entertainers while keeping a light sense of humor.

Spade works well in the role, as his cynical humor molds the character into all of the sourness to be expected from a forgotten star along with an unexpected glimmer of hope pervading his actions.

Spade also throws himself into the arms of physical comedy as he performs stunts reminiscent of Chris Farley. Those who enjoyed the humor of “Black Sheep” and “Tommy Boy” might find themselves chuckling along with “Dickie Roberts.”

However, make no mistake, Spade’s co-stars — such as Jon Lovitz and Craig Bierko — do not quite match the comic flare he and Farley sparked. There are moments where, with the exception of a quick interjection from Roberts, the movie sinks into a lull from which there appears no escape.

“Dickie Roberts” seems more of a collection of jokes directed at former teen idols and pop culture fickleness than a feature film.

Alhough the movie lacks true character development, director Sam Weisman combines the hopeless with the humorous in a smooth manner. There are moments of pure laughter, but too few and too far between.