Movie review: ‘Dirty Work’

I 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.” In fact, you can say that “Dirty Work” is one of the 10 worst films ever produced. It would be in contention for a reason to build a time machine – and go back and make sure it isn’t made. Forget time travel to the stopping the start of world wars, I’d consider first going back and making sure this one isn’t made. 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

(NOTE: I expanded this review with additional criticism and trivia, the updating of links on June 28, 2018, as well as updating to the proper spelling of the headliner’s name – after IMDb.com continues to get it wrong).

Have you ever been asked, “Which modern film comedy is the worst of all worlds in filmmaking?” Hmmm. Then you have to think no further than immediately saying, “Dirty Work.” It is complete and pure dreck from comedians Norm Macdonald (the star) and Bob Saget (the director). Both have talent; both are funny; and both have ridden a big one into the sewer with this one.

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It’s difficult to know where to begin: The idea is bad; the script is worse; the acting cannot even be called that; the production is so poorly executed it should have been executed; and ultimately “Dirty Work” showcases how to completely waste the talents of Macdonald, Saget and especially the usually marvelous Jack Warden.

However, the worst of a whole lot of worse is that both legendary funnyman Chevy Chase and brilliant comedian Chris Farley (mercifully in an uncredited role as “Jimmy” in that great comedian’s last film before his death at 33 in 1997) chose to be in it. Unsurprisingly, they come across as having no talent at all. Only a little less disappointing is the wasted effort by Christopher Macdonald, who has given wonderful performances as a snooty jerk in films such as “Dutch” (click here for my review) and “Happy Gilmore” (click here for my review). Sorry, Christopher, there was no saving this steaming pile.

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 pranking service 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 “ 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 to write this, but it is true to write that this one offers just a ghastly bunch of lines for two-time Oscar nominee (certainly not for this one) Warden, who plays “Pops McKenna.” He has talent galore but just embarrasses himself here. Warden has been in great cinema including “12 Angry Men,” “All the President’s Men” (click here for my review) and “Being There.” He 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 (click here for my review). Warden, who died at 86 in 2005 of heart and kidney failure, was nominated for “Shampoo” and “Heaven Can Wait” – both with Warren Beatty.
  • The most insincere and wooden performance is done by two-time Golden Globe nominee (certainly not for this one) Chase, who plays “Dr. Farthing” (apropos name via a ham-handed metaphor). 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 in this 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” (click here for my review) and I like him best after “Caddyshack” in “Foul Play” (click here for my review) or “Seems Like Old Times” (click here for my review) and both are with Goldie Hawn. Both his nominations come from “Foul Play.”
  • The only bright spot in the film is by Traylor Howard, who would go on to bigger and better things as “Natalie Teeger” in one of my favs – the hit TV series “Monk.” In “Dirty Work,” 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 $tate University – yes, the dollar sign is my ham-handed metaphor).
  • Finally, another sad supporting performance comes from another legendary comedian: Don Rickles. The Primetime Emmy winner 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). He won his Emmy for a self-titled TV special.

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 and that leads to a confused gun battle) or how the plot just plays itself out. Great potential, but nothing but crap in the execution.

In the end, you’d have to evaluate it the same as Dan Aykroyd’s horrid effort in the pitiful sequel “Caddyshack II” (click here for my review): A complete embarrassment and pretty much unwatchable. It’s a sorry note that Chase was involved in that stinker, too, and did one of the most amazingly bad scenes with Aykroyd. Sigh, how far they fell from their best work.

Dirty Work” laid a box office egg (or you can call it something else) since audiences apparently found it as revolting then as I do writing about it 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 at No. 1 the terrific World War II film “Saving Private Ryan” with $216.5 million and “Armageddon” was second with $201.5 million. Here are the films from that year that I’ve reviewed for my blog:

One major note about an error:

I originally wrote the headliner’s last name as MacDonald because that’s how Hollywood’s online bible – IMDb.com – has him listed. However, all credible sources I can find say that his name is spelled with a lower case “D” … as Norm Macdonald. It’s that way on the movie poster, but movie art isn’t always the most reliable – in fact, most people don’t realize that the film “MASH” doesn’t have the asterisks … those were added for the movie poster and the used by the now-iconic TV series.

So, get your act together IMDb.com. Your system won’t allow for a correction because your software thinks that Norm MacDonald and Norm Macdonald are the same thing. Sigh.

Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):

  • Adam Sandler, too, has a mercifully uncredited role here as “Satan.” He’s much better in “Happy Gilmore” and “Just Go With It” with Jennifer Aniston (click here for my review). Sadly, Sandler wound up in this piece of crap because Howard Stern refused to do the role.
  • Directly from IMDb.com: “On Artie Lange’s stand-up comedy DVD, Artie Lange: It’s the Whiskey Talkin’ (2004) an audience member asks him to sign his DVD copy of the film. He does so, and then gives the fan ten dollars, saying ‘you don’t see Ben Affleck doing that for Gigli (2003)!’ Lange then mentions that the review in his home town paper, The Star Ledger, said that he ‘had all the charm of a date rapist,’ to which MacDonald replied (in a sincere attempt to cheer him up) ‘that’s a lot better than saying you look like a regular rapist!’”
  • 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.”
  • Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “According to Chevy Chase, he was impressed by the original script’s raunchy, R-rated, ‘over the top’ tone (particularly a filmed, but ultimately cut, gag involving MacDonald and Lange delivering donuts that had been photographed around their genitals), and went so far as to tell MacDonald and Lange to not allow any changes. However, the studio insisted on a PG-13 rating, and re-scheduled the film’s release from February to June, where it fared poorly against blockbusters like Godzilla (1998). Unfortunately, no alternate scenes had been shot, and the dialogue could only be changed with the actor’s re-recording their lines. This may explain why some of the dialogue is dubbed in certain scenes.”

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014, 2018.
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