The Happy Madison formula is one I am growing to wholeheartedly detest. It is becoming so much of a muchness I begin to dub their films as “anti-character studies,” meaning they always focus on such a degenerate of a human that it becomes impossible to laugh at them during their misfortunes. Happy Gilmore, I felt toyed with, given a character who screams and yells and is clearly in need of some mental help, and felt like I was a bully laughing at a character who wasn’t all there. Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star left me disgusted that such an inhumane, inept, and socially unacceptable character had gotten his own feature length film and was doing things that didn’t constitute for human on any social level to laugh at, that I nearly lost all faith that a good movie could ever be made by anyone even involved in the film. And as for The Waterboy, all I can say the character was easily the most unlikable of the unlikable for that year.
Joe Dirt is more of the same formula, only manipulated slightly. Construct a character, ugly, indecent, and such an easy target for bullying and make him the lead character in a comedy so we can follow him along on one contrivance after another just to watch the poor sap become the butt of every joke. The manipulation of the Madison formula comes stems from the Joe Dirt character himself, who is mildly likable for one reason; he is not abusive, violent, or incorrigible. He has been given every form of hell, that his way of closure is just peacefulness and passiveness. He can actually be a fairly suitable misfit role model for Bucky, Happy, and the Waterboy, although that may be pushing it.
But on with the movie; David Spade is Joe Dirt, in an unfortunate role after two hilarious ones in both Black Sheep and Tommy Boy. He is the hardcore, outrageous, mullet-headed (it’s a wig by the way, since apparently he was born with a cracked skull) dolt who works as a custodian for an LA radio station, and resides in the luxurious boiler room of the joint. In a spur of the moment decision, Joe Dirt is forced to join the verbally abusive shock-jock Zander Kelly (Miller) on the radio (the character seems to have picked up David Spade’s smart-ass qualities from Tommy Boy pretty well), where he is forced into talking about his life over the course of the next few days live on air.
So we are presented with flashbacks with occasional interruptions of Dirt’s childhood, where he was abandoned at the Grand Canyon by his parents, when he met the most beautiful girl in the world (Daniel) and her mean-spirited boyfriend (Kid Rock), along with trying to cope in a world where he is unwanted.
The audience can vaguely side with the man because he is one of the few Happy Madison anti-character studies that doesn’t make humor out of the character bringing things on himself. Instead, it focuses on the idiotic things the character says throughout the picture as a means to act tough and make humor out of the contentious interactions he has with others. He is an inept idiot, and one that confuses the audience. This is where the paradox of Madison films comes to life; we are supposed to root for this character during oppressive times, yet laugh when he is made fun of.
David Spade is fine as the character, sometimes but rarely striking any laughs, and the atmosphere is muggy and brutal, like in many Sandler films. Sandler is not in the film, but has a producer’s credit on it, and many of his regulars like Allen Covert and Kevin Nealon make quick appearances in, so the film replicates the close to home feeling they always have.
I suppose if you have liked previous Sandler features, you’re likely to enjoy this one. The main problem with Joe Dirt is, like its character, it is so desperate for attention that it will go to great lengths to achieve it, never erecting some form of credible discipline. The script becomes monotonous, as the character collides and travels down the long, straight road to the next comedy setup, the jokes are mild, unoffensive, and muted because of the rating, and Spade’s performance is less than commendable. Although I wouldn’t mind seeing that hairstyle again.
Starring: David Spade, Dennis Miller, Brittany Daniel, Kid Rock, Allen Covert, Kevin Nealon, and Christopher Walken. Directed by: Dennis Gordon.