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(2003) (David Spade, Mary McCormack) (PG-13)

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Comedy: A former child star hires a family to teach him about normal life so that he can land a lucrative, comeback part in a major movie.
Dickie Roberts (DAVID SPADE) is a 35-year-old parking valet who's fallen on hard times, as he's never been able to match the success of being a former child star on the 1970s TV sitcom, "The Glimmer Gang." When not hanging out with fellow former child stars and performers, or having his girlfriend, Cyndi (ALYSSA MILANO), dump him, Dickie hopes that his agent, Sidney Wernick (JON LOVITZ), can get him an important part that will begin his comeback.

He gets that chance when he hears that director Rob Reiner (ROB REINER) is casting for his next picture. Reiner thinks that Dickie is physically perfect for the part, but worries that since Dickie never had a normal childhood, he might not be able to handle the emotional aspect of the role.

With a few months before Reiner makes his final decision, Dickie decides to hire a family to teach him what it's like to grow up in a normal household. Accordingly, he shows up at the steps of the Finney house where car salesman dad George (CRAIG BIERKO) has agreed to the arrangement without first consulting his wife, Grace (MARY MCCORMACK), or their young kids, Sam (SCOTT TERRA) and Sally (JENNA BOYD).

None of the latter are particularly thrilled about the prospect of a stranger moving in with them for a month. Despite that and various setbacks along the way, however, they eventually come to like and help him, just as he does for them, all while hoping to learn enough to land the lucrative part.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Some children and parents alike dream - for varying reasons - of the former becoming some sort of famous performer, be it in the music, TV or film business. Many in the latter group, however, realize that for every Jodie Foster who successfully managed to grow up "normal" in the glare of the media spotlight, there are the Todd Bridges, Dana Platos and Michael Jacksons of the world who didn't.

While there are various former child stars who've otherwise grown up to live in obscurity as adults, there are those who've flamed out, gotten into trouble with the law or even died. That, of course, has given "The E! True Hollywood Story" program plenty of material with which to work.

Appropriately enough, a fictionalized installment of that sensationalistic, documentary style show opens and closes the comedy "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star." As written by Fred Wolf ("Joe Dirt," "Dirty Work") and star David Spade, and directed by Sam Weisman ("What's the Worst That Could Happen?" "The Out-of-Towners"), this 100-some minute effort occasionally delivers some decent laughs and has the right intentions and instincts. Yet, its inconsistent tone and various missteps prevent it from being as funny as it probably could and should have been.

Much of one's reaction to the film will obviously depend on his or her view and acceptance of actor David Spade ("Joe Dirt," "Lost & Found") in the lead role. An occasionally funny but otherwise limited comedic performer, Spade always plays the same sort of role and there's not much stretching present here.

His fans will obviously like that, but I found the film's best moments to be the ones where he was only part of the mix and not the main attraction. They include some satirical spoof bits about the entertainment industry, as well as a funny scene where Spade plays poker - and complains about the current state of star affairs - with the likes of former child stars Barry Williams, Danny Bonaduce, Dustin Diamond, Corey Feldman and Leif Garrett.

Williams gets the best bit as he continually ups the ante with trinkets from various "Brady Bunch" episodes. He also returns at the end of the film - along with a host of other former stars - in a "We Are the World" sort of group song that similarly skewers the hand that once fed them.

When that's not occurring, however, we're left with an otherwise mediocre plot. It revolves around Spade's character hiring a family - played by Craig Bierko ("The Thirteenth Floor," "Kate & Leopold"), Mary McCormack ("K-PAX," "Private Parts"), Scott Terra ("Daredevil," "Eight Legged Freaks") and Jenna Boyd ("The Hunted") - to teach him what a "normal" family is like so that he can land a comeback role in a major film.

In the right hands and with the right performer, that might have yielded some funny bits. With the exception of one scene featuring a dead bunny and a few other briefly amusing moments, however, much of the material is lame, juvenile and far too predictable. There's never any doubt that Dickie and most of the Finney clan will bond after each helps the other out of various predicaments.

It's with that sort of material that the film suddenly tries to go sentimental. The result isn't always successful and generates that uneven feel, as one can tell the filmmakers were uncertain what to do once the mix evolved. Nevertheless, it does show some promise - however small - that Spade might one day graduate from his standard shtick to something, dare I say, more mature.

Aside from his to be expected performance, McCormack is good as the mother figure, Terra and Boyd are decent as the kids, and Bierko is appropriately slimy, if completely one-dimensional, playing her husband. The likes of Jon Lovitz ("Rat Race," "Little Nicky"), Alyssa Milano ("Fear," "Hugo Pool") and Rob Reiner (playing himself) appear in smaller roles, but aren't given much of an opportunity to do much with their parts.

Certainly not Spade's worst or most annoying work and possibly his most accessible to non-fans, the film has its moments, particularly when in satire mode. It's just too bad that not as much fun and imagination went into crafting and then fleshing out the main, predictable plot. Fitfully amusing and mildly entertaining, "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed September 2, 2003 / Posted September 5, 2003

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