July 29, 2001 -- Humor is often accomplished at someone's expense. In the movie, "The Adventures of Joe Dirt," it is accomplished at the expense of Joe Dirt (played by David Spade of TV's "Just Shoot Me") and everyone who fits under that monster truck, stock car, trailer park, redneck umbrella.
The vicious hits, many of them delivered mercilessly by the hip D.J. Zander Kelly (Dennis Miller of "Murder at 1600") at station KXLA, are done for laughs, but it is not so much that we're laughing with Joe Dirt. We're supposed to be laughing at him. Kelly calls Dirt white trash, a redneck, inbred, stupid. He makes fun of his "mullet" hairdo. Really funny stuff. Part of the reason for the merciless attack, however, is to make us feel sorry for him. Abandoned at the age of eight, and small, he is constantly being picked on by others and taken advantage of.
Joe Dirt remains undeterred, however, in his neverending quest to find his parents, and he remains remarkably upbeat. He is also kindhearted and does not become mean-spirited like his many tormentors. He believes that if he remains a good person that good things will happen for him. His story is not unlike that of Steve Martin's "The Jerk." Too many of the jokes miss their mark, however, and the story practically drowns in sentimentality. Spade's strong suit is caustic humor, and he doesn't get a chance to take advantage of that in this movie, which he co-wrote. Instead, Dennis Miller got all those caustic comedy lines and Spade is the straight man.
There's a scene that is intended as a comic riff on "Silence of the Lambs" which seemed pretty lame. Then there's the sexual encounter that is supposed to be a joke about inbreeding. There are numerous jokes about Spader's supposed sex appeal, his taste in music, his clothes, his car, etc. It is all pretty thin. The screenplay was also poorly constructed by relying too heavily on flashbacks. The story does succeed, to an extent, in showing Joe Dirt to be a kind of good-hearted, mentally-challenged everyman struggling against steep odds to find his place in the world. In addition to Spade and Miller, Christopher Walken of "Blast from the Past" turns in a good performance as Clem, the dancing janitor. Adam Beach of "Smoke Signals" is fine as Kicking Wing, a man who has a failing fireworks stand on the reservation. Brittany Daniel of "The Basketball Diaries") plays Brandy, Joe's longsuffering girlfriend. Joe Don Baker, who's been in a few James Bond movies, plays Brandy's mean father.
Adam Sandler was the executive producer of this film, and it was made under the banner of his Happy Madison company. Sandler has a knack for stories like this, broad comedies with heart. Sandler has yet to find a hero, however, who is anywhere near as good at playing this kind of mixed part as well as he is. While Spade did succeed in winning my sympathy, it wasn't worth sitting through all those bad jokes and weak comedy sketches to get to that point. This film rates a C.
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