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Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star Review

By Shawn McKenzie 09/05/2003

Ever since Chris Farley died, I’ve been a little concerned about David Spade.  Tommy Boy and Black Sheep were two of the funniest comedies of the ‘90s, but Spade’s movie career since has been less than stellar.  Lost & Found and Joe Dirt just weren’t up to his potential, and I wondered if he could actually carry a film by himself.  Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star has given me a little more faith.


Dickie Roberts was a cute little blonde kid who captured the hearts of America on his “Brady Bunch”-like TV show “The Glimmer Gang.”  His catchphrase that melted hearts was “That’s knuckin’ futs!”  His mother Peggy (Doris Roberts), who was his manager, would sometimes dress Dickie up as a little girl if the part called for it.  When “The Glimmer Gang” got cancelled, Dickie’s life fell apart.  His mother abandoned him, he developed a weird habit of always wearing gloves, and he was now a six-year-old has-been.  Fast forward to the present day, and a 35-year-old Dickie (Spade) is now parking cars for celebrities at a nightclub.  He has tried the occasional comeback attempt, like fighting Emmanuel “Webster” Lewis in a “Celebrity Boxing” match, but nothing is working.  His girlfriend, Cyndi (Alyssa Milano), has just dumped him for being a loser.  All he has for friends are his fellow former child star poker buddies, Barry “Greg Brady” Williams, Leif Garret, Corey Feldman, Dustin “Screech” Diamond, and Danny “Danny Partridge” Bonaduce.  He also has his faithful agent, Sidney Wernick (Jon Lovitz), by his side.  When Dickie hears about a primo lead part in the next Rob Reiner-directed film, he imposes upon some of his connections to get a meeting with Reiner.  Brendan Fraser helps him out, and he gets the meeting.  Reiner (appearing as himself) tells Dickie that he has the right look for the part, but that he hasn’t lived a normal enough life to get the right emotional tone for the part.  Since Reiner wasn’t planning on auditioning for the role for another month or so, it would give Dickie some time to learn how to be normal.  He figured that all he needed to do was relive his childhood with a normal family.  Dickie decides to sell his memoirs to raise some money to hire a family to teach him how to be normal.  After some scary potential families, He chooses the Finney family.  In a deal made with George Finney (Craig Bierko), the owner of a used car dealership, Dickie would stay with the Finneys for one month and observe how a normal family acts.  This comes as a surprise to George’s wife, Grace (Mary McCormack), and their two kids, Sam and Sally (Scott Terra and Jenna Boyd.)  When George points out how much they need the money, Grace reluctantly agrees.  At first, Grace and the kids don’t like Dickie, because he is rude and has weird tantrums, but they start to warm up to him.  For Sam, it is because Dickie teaches him how to be more assertive, allowing him to stand up to the school bullies and ask out a cute neighbor girl named Barbie (Ambyr Childers.)  For Sally, Dickie teaches her some cheers for the pep squad, so she can compete against Heather Bolan (Ashley Edner), a girl who gets her way by using moves that are just a little too spicy.  For Grace, Dickie teaches her also to stand up for herself, against her rude neighbor (Edie McClurg) and her constantly absent husband.  Meanwhile, Sidney goes to great lengths to get Dickie an audition, which becomes increasingly hard when he learns that Dickie is competing for the part against Sean Penn.  If all goes well, Dickie will learn how a real kid is supposed to grow up, and maybe he will be ready to audition for the comeback role of a lifetime.


You definitely have to be a fan of ‘70s and ‘80s sitcoms to appreciate the humor in this movie.  Anyone who has seen an episode of “E! True Hollywood Story” can find some humor in this film (in fact, the movie starts out with a fictional episode of this show talking about Dickie.)  It’s funny how former child stars are coming back in full force in different projects that poke fun at their status.  Aside from FOX’s “Celebrity Boxing,” there is the WB’s “The Surreal Life” (a “Real World” for has-beens), E!’s “Star Dates” (single B-list celebrities go on two dates with real people), and NBC’s “The Rerun Show” (a troupe of comic actors reenact old episodes of cheesy sitcoms with a weird new twist.)  You might also mention ABC’s “Celebrity Mole” and “I’m a Celebrity! Get Me Out of Here!,” but those are just recent has-beens.  I think the whole self-parody trend started with the hilarious big-screen adaptations The Brady Bunch Movie and The Addams Family.  Ever since, many child stars have come to accept their role in pop culture and are now making money poking fun at it.  In fact, during the credits at the end of the movie, several former child stars sing a “We are the World”-like song about how they get tired of being asked about the roles that made them famous.  It is a very funny scene, and it might surprise you to see who shows up (that Maureen “Marcia Brady” McCormick has a filthy mouth!)


So how is the movie aside from the pop culture references?  Not bad.  Spade gets in some great lines while trying to help out the family who is helping him.  It does dip into sentimentality a little heavy, but I can forgive that.  I’m just glad to see Spade finally lead a movie worth going to see.

Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star will crack you up, especially if you grew up with the child stars that are being lampooned.  Spade still has a ways to go in terms of bringing out a movie that is as funny as his two with Farley, but he is on the right track.  Now that “Just Shoot Me” is over, maybe he can concentrate on a full on movie comeback.  This one is a good start.


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