The ad campaign for “Joe Dirt” stresses the fact that this new David Spade “comedy” has been the recipient of no awards or nominations in the recent season. It can be stated with absolute assurance that, a year from now, this situation will not have changed, as this forlorn and almost proudly dimwitted picture instantly takes a prominent place along with “Tomcats,” “Say It Isn’t So,” “Saving Silverman” and “Get Over It” on the list of reasons why raucous teen farce is headed six feet under. If the turnout at the L.A. press showing — by far the smallest at a large-venue all-media screening in memory — is any indication, B.O. will follow down the lackluster path of this year’s genre predecessors, with young teenage boys very much at loose ends repping the only reliable audience.
Watching “Joe Dirt” is a dirty business, but someone’s got to do it, if only to report that, under normal circumstances, a picture this lame co-written by and starring a comic performer would be enough to relegate him to second banana status for the indefinite future. Given that this is unlikely to happen, Spade, who seems quite incapable of generating any hilarity all by himself, should make sure that, in future, he surrounds himself with funny screen cohorts or at least pairs himself with an amusing partner and then is content to function as the affable straight man in the equation.
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Spade’s title character, according to the fascinated radio talkshow host (Dennis Miller) to whom he tells his sad-sack life story, is an “exquisitely pathetic” “white trash idiot” adorned with a Jane Fonda-in-“Klute” shag haircut who’s spent his life searching for the parents who abandoned him on the edge of the Grand Canyon when he was 8. After a stupefying interlude in which Joe takes a modest-sized fallen meteor as his traveling companion, he has an equally clever “meet cute” with perky farm girl Brandy (Brittany Daniel), in which he demonstrates how to extricate her dog’s balls from a frozen porch.
The affable, self-deprecating Joe becomes Brandy’s most valued companion, much to the displeasure of her would-be boyfriend, local tough guy Robby (Kid Rock), who urges Joe on to distant pastures. His subsequent low-flying misadventures include a flight in a molar-styled hot air balloon, his digging up what appears to be a long-buried A-bomb, a roll in the hay with a blond hottie who turns out to possibly be his sister, and a spell wrestling gators in Louisiana at the behest of an uncredited Rosanna Arquette (Joe Don Baker, Kevin Nealon and Carson Daly also put in uncredited appearances — did they know something the other actors didn’t?).
In line with the current preoccupation with celebrity, Joe Dirt even gets his 15 minutes of fame courtesy of the radio show on which he recounts his dispiriting journey through a land rather less colorful than Oz; all the same, his ultimate meeting with his long-lost parents proves even more disillusioning than did Dorothy’s with the Wizard.
With a milieu largely defined by trailer parks, carnivals, back roads and farms, pic both trades in and lampoons working stiff/white trash attitudes and styles, obvious targets to say the least. Joe’s ingrown mullet wig is good for a couple of laughs early on, and Christopher Walken’s insistence that his name is not “Clem” but “Gert Frobe” (the actor who played Goldfinger) will cause some buffs to wonder if they’re hearing right.
But mainly one spends the hour and a half watching the spectacle of Spade trying, with a laid-back straightforwardness and a conspicuous lack of success, to be both funny and endearing in the manner of the classic comedian-actors. Joe Dirt is supposed to be a sort of Dickensian orphan transformed into a Preston Sturges common man who has greatness thrust upon him; the problem is that no one involved — from co-writer Fred Wolf and first-time director Dennie Gordon to exec producer Adam Sandler and, most notably, to Spade himself — has a clue what to do with him.