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Wednesday, April 11, 2001

Tractor pall

Movie: Joe Dirt

Posted on Wed, Apr 11, 2001 at 4:00 AM

Our Rating: 1.50

That unique species, the American redneck, deserves to be immortalized in his own classic comedy. And perhaps someone will craft one someday. But for now, all we have is dirt -- "Joe Dirt," to be exact.

The clearest sign that this pathetic aside won't begin to suffice as a satire of stone-washed society? Its title hero (David Spade) doesn't even sport a real mullet -- just a mullet-cut wig, which he must wear at all times. Why? He was "born without a little bit of the top of [his] skull."

The movie's missing even more cranial equipment. Co-written by Spade and directed by TV-spawned newcomer Dennie Gordon, it's the sort of project Adam Sandler would turn down as soon as he reached page three of its putrid script. (Sandler is credited as one of the film's executive producers.)

Dirt is submitted as a hard-rockin' hayseed, a devoted Auto Trader reader whose wardrobe runneth over with Def Leppard T-shirts. Kind-hearted beneath his greasy exterior, he's on an extended, cross-country mission to locate his parents, who abandoned the then-8-year-old Dirtbag during a family trip to the Grand Canyon.

That even H.R.S. would likely have excused such an act as preservation of the gene pool is but one of the comedic jumping-off points the film totally bypasses. Its powers of perception are limited to a single, short scene, in which the vagabond Dirt tries to hitch a ride from passing motorists by advertising his harmlessness on a placard that reads, "I won't kill you."

The rest of the film is an unrelenting effort to gross out the slack-jawed. A dog's testicles are frozen to a porch. Joe lights a cow's farts. Joe acquires a fallen "meteor" that's actually a hunk of human waste expelled by a passing airplane; unaware, he carts it around with him like a personal totem. (Well, what's a guy to do when Tom Hanks has already snapped up all the volleyballs?)

The story is presented as a series of flashbacks, with Joe explaining his unlikely odyssey to an amused radio DJ (Dennis Miller, whose slowed-down ranting hints at sedation). It's an oddly inert framing technique for a self-styled wild comedy -- "My Dinner with Cletus," perhaps.

Joe's voyage of self-discovery brings him into contact with a battery of allegedly colorful types, most of them played by character actors who appear to be squeezing in some quick and easy work before the SAG strike hits. There's "Walking Tall" hero Joe Don Baker (the REAL Joe Dirt), who plays the alcoholic dad of Spade's sexy down-home love interest, Brandy (Brittany Daniel). Rosanna Arquette shows up as the owner of a Sunshine State alligator farm. (Guess she really enjoyed her visit to last year's Florida Film Festival, after all.) And Christopher Walken has a cameo as a Louisiana school janitor with a dark secret, a masquerade that gives rise to some out-of-context laughs -- then again, when ISN'T Christopher Walken out of context?

Who'd-a thunk it, but the most credible performance is turned in by rap-metal chart-topper Kid Rock, who in his film debut assumes the part of a bullying hillbilly named Robby. Something tells me that boy ain't acting, but at least he's more watchable than our alleged star -- Spade's Joe is the biggest hole in a movie that's full of them. The character might have come to semi-life had he been portrayed by an actor like Sandler, whose blue-collar postures are believable and even endearing. But Spade is hopelessly miscast. He can play exactly one character type: the smart-mouthed mama's boy who keeps pecking away at his human targets until they, to employ the vernacular, beat his ass for him. As the earthy Dirt, he merely looks lost and embarrassed. Just shoot him.


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