Obtuse and creepy, Dickie Roberts asks that we accept David Spade as a character who desperately wants to be wanted, which is asking a lot. Spade looks perfect—his pipsqueak physicality suits Dickie, stunted by ubiquity as the pre-teen star of a Partridge Family-ish sitcom called The Glimmer Gang. He’s fey but sinewy in close-ups, like Dennis the Menace crossed with Nick Nolte’s mug shot, stuck between the childhood he skipped and the adulthood he hasn’t earned. But Spade plays Dickie like he’s played every part save Joe Dirt, as a flailingly sarcastic misanthrope. When Dickie—researching “normal” life to land a Rob Reiner movie role—pays a family to reraise him, it’s an attempt to buy a love less conditional than TV star adoration; Dickie has to admit a need, and fill it, before he can grow up.
But you sense Spade is scared of what finding too much of himself in Dickie might mean; he jabbers ad-libs, and makes the movie come to him. Dickie never has to learn to not be a dick; instead he teaches adoptive MILF (Mary McCormack) and her kids to assert themselves by being Spade-ishly jerky to people. When he lands the Reiner, it’s buh-bye to the idea that there’s more to life than a rewarding career in the entertainment industry. Spade gets a sitcom and nails McCormack, too. You know you’re in Tinseltown cloud-cuckoo-land when as-themselves cameos by Screech, and a sepulchral Corey Feldman add a touch of veracity.