Movie review: ‘Dirty Work’

dwI enjoy Norm Macdonald’s sarcastic style of comedy and off-beat sense of humor. However, that humor doesn’t translate well to films. The “Saturday Night Live” veteran is very funny, but you won’t find much in a very, truly horrible film called “Dirty Work.” I don’t enjoy doing negative reviews, but if I have a chance to warn you off from this one, then it was worth it.

‘Dirty Work’
(1998; 82 minutes; rated PG-13; directed by Bob Saget and starring Norm MacDonald, Artie Lange and Jack Warden)

BAD (VERY BAD) FILMMAKING HERE

If you ever have to answer the question “which modern comedy is the worst of all worlds in filmmaking?” then you have to think no further than two words: “Dirty Work.” It is a piece of dreck from comedians Norm Macdonald (the star) and Bob Saget (the director) who are individually funny but drop a stinker together with this one.

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It’s difficult to know where to begin: the script is bad; the acting is worse; the premise while funny is so poorly executed it’s bad; and ultimately it is the wasted talent of MacDonald, Saget and especially the usually marvelous Jack Warden that hurts.

However, the worst part is that both legendary funnyman Chevy Chase and brilliant comedian Chris Farley (mercifully in an uncredited role as “Jimmy”) chose to be in it and they come across as having no talent at all. Only a little less disappointing is the wasted effort by Christopher McDonald, who has given wonderful performances as a snooty jerk in films such as “Dutch” (click here for my review) and “Happy Gilmore.”

The story is simple: two guys who since childhood have enjoyed playing pranks back on people who irritate them cannot hold a job but need money for a family member who needs surgery. So they open up shop as a way for people to get revenge on those who irritate them. They wind up embroiled in a real estate scheme by McDonald, who plays the conniving jerk “Travis Cole,” and have to show their true, decent colors to save the day in the end.

Too bad they couldn’t have shown some true, decent talent or effort in “Dirty Work.”

While there’s lots of promise in the premise, Saget fumbles the ball from the first frame and never manages to recover. It’s as if a bunch of comedians got together, tried to piece together lines from their stand-up routines and then made a movie without any regard to quality.

Macdonald plays “Mitch Weaver” and is bumbling through life and cannot really hold a job. He does a good job in films where he does voice-only (such as “Lucky” in “Dr. Doolittle” and its sequel), but when he tries to act here there is no range of facial emotion, voice emotion or really any physical comedy. He’s rock bottom here and it’s too bad because of his talent. Macdonald is a “Saturday Night Live” veteran and has been in “Billy Madison” and “The Animal.”

Artie Lange, who plays MacDonald’s best friend “Sam McKenna,” was given a shot at near-headlining role here by MacDonald and he would later make a bigger mark as mega-popular radio host Howard Stern’s sidekick. You won’t find even a hint of acting ability by Lange here and you can find him in other roles including in “Old School” and “Elf.”

It absolutely hurts but is true to write that this is just a ghastly bunch of lines for Warden, who has talent galore and has been in “12 Angry Men,” “All the President’s Men” and “Being There.” He was twice nominated for Oscars (not for here, naturally) but doesn’t appear to really try to play the creepy perv who’s the father of Lange in “Dirty Work.” Warden should have known better or he needed the money. He should have looked to reprise his role in “While You Were Sleeping” instead of this one.

The most insincere and wooden performance is done by Chase, who plays “Dr. Farthing” (apropos here since a farthing is a coin worth ¼ of a penny, or in common terms it is “nothing”). Chase is Warden’s doctor who has a gambling debt and will only take cash to be able to do surgery on him. Again, there’s a lot to work with the character, but it just doesn’t get done and we’re left with a shell of an effort by someone who shouldn’t have been here. Of course Chase has gotten laughs in “Caddyshack,” the “Vacation” franchise, “Fletch” and “Funny Farm.”

The only bright spot in the film is by Traylor Howard, who would go on to bigger and better things as “Natalie Teeger” in the hit TV series “Monk.” Howard plays “Kathy,” who actually comes to like Macdonald and whose grandmother is pivotal to the real estate scheme. She does her usual earnest turn and manages to convey more in her supporting role than MacDonald and Lange combined in the whole film. Howard, who was also in “Me, Myself & Irene” as well as a string of other TV roles including “Boston Common” and “The Division.” I’ll forgive her for this role because of “Monk” (which also excuses her from being a graduate of Florida State Unviersity).

Forget the rest of it. It would take too many words to describe each and every one of the potentially funny scenes (such as after they put dead fish in a drug dealer’s home) or how the plot plays out. Great ideas but crap in the execution.

Dirty Work” laid a box office egg since audiences apparently found it as revolting then as I and writing today. “Dirty Work” was the 127th ranked film at the domestic box office in 1998 with $10 million in receipts, according to Box Office Mojo. It was a bomb with investors, too, since its budget was reported at $13 million. On the successful side of 1998, we had the No. 1 film “Saving Private Ryan” with $216.5 million and “Armageddon” was second with $201.5 million.

Assorted cast notes (via IMDb.com):

  • Another sad supporting performance comes from another legendary comedian: Don Rickles. He plays theater manager “Mr. Hamilton” and the guys sabotage a movie when the company’s top brass attend. Again, the premise is good (especially the movie they show) and Rickles’ sarcastic comedy could have worked, but these guys couldn’t light a fire with a match. Rickles did a much better turn as “Crapgame” in Clint Eastwood’s “Kelly’s Heroes” (click here for my review).
  • Adam Sandler, too, has a mercifully uncredited role here as “Satan.” He’s been in “Happy Gilmore” (click here for my review) and “Just Go With It” with Jennifer Aniston (click here for my review).
  • The roster of subpar supporting and bit roles continues with Rebecca Romijn as “the bearded lady” and child TV star Gary Coleman as himself.
  • Another uncredited role (popular in this bomb) belongs to John Goodman, who plays “Mayor Adrian Riggins.” He’s been in a string of TV shows as well as the recent war thriller “The Monuments Men.”

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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