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"JOE DIRT"
(2001) (David Spade, Dennis Miller) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: A janitor recounts his adventurous, cross-country life story of trying to find his parents after they left him as a child in a Grand Canyon parking lot many years ago.
PLOT:
Joe Dirt (DAVID SPADE) is a mullet-topped redneck who's been picked on his entire life not only because of his looks, demeanor and name, but also because his parents abandoned him at the Grand Canyon back in 1975 when he was just eight-years-old. Now working as a janitor at radio station KXLA, Joe is suddenly put on the air with talk show host Zander Kelly (DENNIS MILLER). Mesmerized by Joe's appearance and demeanor, Zander decides to interview Joe who proceeds to tell his life story.

As Joe tells his tale of his never ending search for his parents, various flashbacks shows Joe's efforts as well as his encounters with various people around the country. They include Brandy (BRITTANY DANIEL), a young woman who befriends Joe despite him being the target of ridicule by local boy Robby (KID ROCK) and her own father (JOE DON BAKER).

Then there's Kicking Wing (ADAM BEACH), an American Indian Joe wants to hire as a tracker, but is more interested in supporting his dream of becoming a veterinarian through selling fireworks. Jill (JAIME PRESSLY) is a woman he meets at a carnival, falls for, and then worries may be his long lost sister. In New Orleans, Joe briefly works for Clem (CHRISTOPHER WALKEN), a school custodian with a checkered past, and then later meets Charlene (ROSANNA ARQUETTE) who runs a gator farm.

As Joe continues telling his story to Zander over the radio and recounts meeting others and holding down a variety of odd jobs, he soon becomes something of a celebrity, all while still trying to find his parents and figure out why they left him so many years ago.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
Perhaps it's due to the way most of us were introduced to storytelling at an impressionable young age, but for whatever reason we seem to accept filmed stories that have visible narrators even when their presence usually interrupts the dramatic flow of the stories they're telling.

Much like the parents, other older family members or teachers and librarians who add their own flavor and personality into such stories, the same holds true for their cinematic brethren, although they usually tell such tales to one or more other characters in the film rather than the viewers themselves.

One need only think of pictures such as "The Princess Bride," "Fried Green Tomatoes" and the most popular such film of all time, "Forrest Gump," to envision such storytellers who periodically pop back into the proceedings to make sure they justify their status as narrator.

Some of these characters serve just as the storytellers and listeners (Peter Falk and Fred Savage in "The Princess Bride") while others have their own storylines that are connected to the main one in some thematic fashion (such as Kathy Bates in "Fried Green Tomatoes"). The problem with such narrator pop-ins, however, is that they usually stop the main story's momentum dead in its tracks, especially when the story could exist on its own.

In other films, such as "Gump," the disruption isn't quite as bad, especially when the main story consists of mostly fragmented, but related episodes that occur over a span of time. Then there are the narrator-driven pictures that adopt the technique mainly because it seems as if there's otherwise not enough material to warrant a complete, individual story.

"Joe Dirt" is one of those latter films. Something of an inbred, distant cousin to "Gump" in terms of intelligence, overall quality and story to be told, the film is one of those forced affairs where a handful of comedic attempts work, but the vast majority fall flat on their faces.

Among those are all of the scatological, sophomoric and otherwise gross-out moments that include, but aren't limited to the main character carting around a huge junk of airline lavatory waste material as his "friend" (and eating off it), septic tank waste spilling out onto that character, a dog's stretchy scrotum being stuck to a frozen porch, the inevitable dog humping moments and the second instance this spring of an animal's gaseous emissions igniting a lit match and causing an explosion (the other being in "See Spot Run"). All of that material might make middle school kids laugh, but is otherwise repetitive, not overly imaginative and certainly not very funny.

The film's biggest flaw, among many, is that the basic story isn't particularly interesting or engaging. While the protagonist's film-long quest of finding his parents is supposed to keep us glued to the proceedings and propel the film, the problem is that we really don't care about him or that quest. It also doesn't take long to figure out that the film is just going to be a series of skits loosely connected by the periodic return to the narrator.

In fact, and not that surprisingly, the film feels like one of those movies based on a "Saturday Night Live" character that might have worked as a several minute skit (or recurring ones over several weeks), but obviously doesn't have enough substance to sustain a feature length film.

It's too bad the filmmakers - director Dennie Gordon (making his debut after helming various TV episodes) and screenwriters David Spade ("Lost & Found") and Fred Wolf (co-writer of "Dirty Work" and "Black Sheep") - didn't follow through on their brief moment of pulling a Forrest Gump by injecting this film's character into situations from or inspired by previous classic pictures.

While they don't go the full Gump route - of digitally inserting Spade's character into the real scenes - there is a vignette that's slightly amusing where Dirt finds himself a victim of Buffalo Bob of "Silence of the Lambs" fame. While that sequence isn't perfectly pulled off from a comedic standpoint - although it has its funny moments - at least it has the right intention and certainly shows more imagination than most of the rest of the film where the jokes don't work or are too predictable.

In the vein of most "Saturday Night Live" type skits and movies, David Spade ("The Emperor's New Groove," "Lost & Found") creates a mildly entertaining caricature with his signature, Southern drawl exaggeration of saying "Whaaaaat?" and "Daaaaang." His performance here only reinforces my belief, however, that he's far better as a supporting actor rather than as the lead who must carry a film.

The rest of the performers, including Brittany Daniel ("The Basketball Diaries"), Kid Rock (the singer making his feature film debut), Jamie Pressly ("Tomcats," "Ringmaster") and Joe Don Baker ("Tomorrow Never Dies," "Cape Fear") all deliver the same sort of uninspired caricatures. Meanwhile, Christopher Walken ("Blast From the Past," "Mouse Hunt") doesn't get enough screen time with his, while I'm sure there will be those who think that Dennis Miller ("Murder of 1600," "Bordello of Blood") gets too much despite being limited in how long his trademark, rant-filled diatribes last.

Beyond a random laugh or two, this is pretty much a waste of celluloid that all but the most rabid of Spade fans would probably be wise to avoid. Although it makes no pretenses to being an award worthy film, there's no excuse for not being funny enough within its own parameters. "Joe Dirt" rates as a 2 out of 10.




Reviewed April 3, 2001 / Posted April 11, 2001


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