Sooner or later, you root for Joe Dirt

by Robert J. Hawkins | Aug 29, 2001
Sooner or later, you root for Joe Dirt On a recent trip down the Gulf Coast of Florida I stopped at a dusty flea market, held in a drive-in theater. Most of the goods were as mangy as the pork chop sideburns worn by the good ol` boys behind the tables. To a man, they sported mullet cuts beneath greasy old ball caps, dirty T`s or tank tops, dusty jeans and work shoes. They spoke in lazy drawls from behind dark sunglasses.

The sign outside the drive-in promised a movie, once the sun went down: "Joe Dirt."

I think I was the only one that day who saw irony in that.

"Joe Dirt" (Columbia TriStar, PG-13, VHS/DVD) pulled in a modest $24 million at the box office (including Southern drive-ins) despite having David Spade in the title role. Well, maybe because of Spade. You love `em or hate `em. There`s no middle ground. Or maybe because movie audiences are gun-shy of any comedy made by Saturday Night Live alumni. It`s been a pretty dismal streak.

Spade`s humor isn`t a universal. Nor is that of co-star Dennis Miller - another SNL alum and current Monday Night Football mouthpiece. Smarmy, condescending, belittling - they both have a way of making their audiences feel small.

Why pay for that when you can go down to the Division of Motor Vehicles office and get the same thing for free?

Spade`s target here - the white-trash American male redneck - is almost too easy.

And at first, the movie seems as though it will be one cannon shot after another, at a paper-thin target the size of an Ozarks outhouse.

Dennis Miller as Los Angeles talk-radio shock jock Zander Kelly chortles with glee when his aides bring in the studio janitor, Joe Dirt (Spade), for some on-air repartee about his Lynyrd Skynyrd-friendly mullet and chops. "Manna from in-bred heaven," exclaims Kelly into the microphone. "Hey, freak-boy, 1976 called and it wants its hair back ... are you doing stunt work for Billy Ray Cyrus?"

But Dirt won`t have any of it: "Is this where you want to be when Jesus comes back? Making fun of poor little Joe Dirt?" (The Second Coming is the context into which Dirt`s long-lost mama used to pound home behavioral lessons.)

Over the course of several radio shifts, DJ Kelly extracts the saga of Joe Dirt - what a way to fill air time - from his abandonment as a little snot on the edge of the Grand Canyon, through his lifelong, humiliating and adventure-impaired search for his parents. The hair, he explains, is a woman`s wig that his mama put on his head as a child to cover his exposed brain - a birth defect that eventually fused shut, locking the wig onto his scalp.

(Why, I wonder, am I writing this with such a straight face?)

As unlikely as it seems, we begin to buy into Joe Dirt and find ourselves pulling for him to find his elusive and improbable happily ever-after. Especially when it becomes clear that it will include the voluptuous farmer`s daughter of every traveling salesman`s dream, Brandy (Brittany Daniel of TV`s "Dawson`s Creek"). Joe Dirt isn`t just stupid. He`s oblivious. He`s an endangered species in need of public protection. In Los Angeles that can mean only one thing: Joe Dirt must become a celebrity. Which he does, hanging out with Carson Daily on MTV, being interviewed by hordes of celebrity press (perhaps the only species more stupid than Dirt.)

On the evolutionary entertainment food chain, "Joe Dirt" is several generations beyond "Dukes of Hazard" (but then, what isn`t?). There are some funny sight gags, and mildly gross gross-out jokes. Christopher Walken dons yet another really bad wig and passes it off as acting. Kid Rock plays a stupid redneck - not a big stretch. Eddie Money plays himself and there is nothing more that needs to be said about that. Erik Per Sullivan, the youngest sibling on the witty TV series "Malcolm in the Middle" plays Dirt as a little squirt. Fred Ward plays Dirt`s long-lost daddy. Jaime Pressly is a steamy chunk of trailer park trash who sees a shirtless Dirt posing beside the carnival ride that he operates and finds him "hot." Go figure.

Ultimately, "Joe Dirt" is harmless. You won`t damage any brain cells in watching it at home and you`ll feel a whole lot better for not paying $7.50 at a movie theater for the experience. That alone should make you feel smarter than Dirt.

EVERYONE LOVES A KLOWN

Once upon a time - let`s call it the 1980s - two "killer" science fiction movies were made - and like every movie with "killer" in the title, they became cult classics each with loyal followings. One was called simply "Killer Tomatoes," and the other, "Killer Klowns From Outer Space."

"Killer Tomatoes," a consciously shoddy but sweet movie, spawned three stinko sequels and became the springboard into a political career for one of its creators.

No such happy ending for "Killer Klowns." For more than 10 years it was the target of legal squabbles that prevented it from being played on the late-late-night TV movie circuit or being released into the very important home video market. It could not spawn sequels, either. None of the three Chiodo brothers who created the movie - Charles, Stephen and Edward - used it as a political springboard.

"There are already enough clowns in Washington," said Charles in a recent call from their office in Los Angeles. (The "Killer Tomatoes" producer never made it farther than the state Senate in Sacramento where he is currently despised as one of the fathers of California energy deregulation. Mama always said, you get what you deserve... )

As "Killer Klowns" fans know, the movie has been liberated from its litigious purgatory. The VHS tape was released nearly a year ago. The DVD version with a circus-full of extras makes its eagerly awaited debut this week. Eagerly? The Chiodos say "Killer Klowns" is the second most-requested "... From Outer Space" title on Amazon.com, behind the gold standard, the Ed Wood classic "Plan 9 From Outer Space."

"We`re aware of the fan base, from several unofficial Web sites," says Stephen (or is it Edward?). "An awful lot of people wanted to know when the DVD would come out." The brothers knew they had a franchise in waiting, says Edward (or is it Charles?), when they saw their movie used as an answer on "Jeopardy." Validation like that can`t be bought.

With the rights restored to the creators, might the requisite sequel be in the offing?

"We hope so," says Charles (or is it Stephen?). "We should be up to number eight or nine by now."

While "Killer Klowns" was on ice, the Chiodo brothers continued to hone their chops in model-making, special effects and puppetry. Their work has been seen in countless movies and commercials over the years, including "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," all four "Critters" movies, "The Stupids," "PeeWee`s Big Adventure," "Robocop," "Darkman," and "Naked Gun III." The Chiodo brothers have at least two ideas for a sequel and they`re anxious to employ their seasoned skills to the franchise.

The movie`s three main non-Klown stars - Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder and John Allen Nelson - show up periodically on television and in B movies. Nelson currently has the male lead in the syndicated TV series "Sheena." Snyder did some "Seinfeld" episodes. But the guy who has gone the farthest was the first to be killed by the rapacious Klowns, Chris Titus. He`s got his own comedy series, and a very good one at that: "Titus."

If you get the DVD, you`ll get to "meet" the Chiodo brothers. They`re on camera a lot discussing the movie and future of their Klown franchise. The DVD has lots of outtakes, deleted scenes, photos, special effects and behind-the-scenes mini-features. There is a "secret" area (they`re called Easter eggs) in which you can watch auditions for Klown roles and view two alternate scenes. (You can reach it two ways: click on some popcorn images on the screen or let the index sit on your TV screen untouched for several minutes.)

ALSO THIS WEEK

"Company Man," (Paramount, PG-13) Sigourney Weaver, John Turturro, Woody Allen, Alan Cumming and Denis Leary lead a hefty cast in the screwball comedy about the CIA and a high school grammar teacher whose white lie turns him into a super spy.

"Wicked" (Columbia TriStar, R) In this psychological thriller, Julia Stiles is a teen-ager who is unhappy about her home life and her school situation and decides to do something about it.

"The Invisible Circus" (New Line, R) The year is 1977 and a woman (Jordana Brewster) is retracing the steps of her older sister (Cameron Diaz) who died mysteriously seven years earlier on a trip to Europe with her boyfriend (Christopher Eccleston).

"Into the Arms of Strangers" (Warner, documentary) Oscar-

winning report on an extraordinary operation to rescue children in the path of the Nazi machine. Actress Judi Dench narrates the story of 10,000 children shipped from German-held countries to rural Great Britain on the eve of war.

"See Spot Run" (Warner) Family comedy about a mailman and a crime-fighting super dog, stars David Arquette, Michael Clark Duncan and Paul Sorvino - who all violate the No. 1 rule of acting: Never act opposite an animal.

"Across the Atlantic: Behind the Lindbergh Legend" and "Inside Air Force One" (Warner, VHS, each under $15). Two outstanding National Geographic specials. In "Across the Atlantic," the viewer "sits" in the cockpit of a Spirit of St. Louis replica for an hour-by-hour re-enactment of the famous solo flight. In "Air Force One," a first-ever tour inside the "flying White House" is accompanied by a look at the 50-year history of presidential airplanes, with anecdotes from former President Clinton and current prez Bush.

DVD UPDATE

DVD debuts this week: "Marathon Man," "Carrie," "Gandhi," "Forrest Gump," "The Next Karate Kid," "My Best Friend`s Wedding," "Kramer vs. Kramer," "Blow Out," "Dressed to Kill," "Benji," "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory." The Teletubbies make their DVD debut in "Baby Animals."

At last: To mark the 60th anniversary of what is widely regarded as the best movie ever made, Warner Brothers will debut "Citizen Kane" in a double-disc DVD edition on Sept. 25. Besides an impressively restored movie, the content includes the two-hour documentary "The Battle Over Citizen Kane." The movie is viewable with two full-length commentaries, by either film critic Roger Ebert or film director and Orson Welles` biographer Peter Bogdanovich. Other extras include the 1941 New York premiere newsreel and a gallery of storyboards, production photos, call sheets and other film-making detritus.

WHO ARE YOU

"Tommy" wasn`t the only Who concept album to be translated into a movie. It happened again in 1979 with "Quadrophenia," a teen coming-of-age story loosely based on the 1973 album of the same name. Look for the "Quad" to scooter onto DVD on Sept. 25. Extras will include director Franc Roddam`s commentary track, a reel of Vespa scooter commercials, Roddam`s personal photo collection from the set, animated location map outlining the London-to-Brighton scooter ride featured in the movie, a Who discography and pop culture background on the Mods and Rockers.

BOMBS AWAY

You just knew this would happen: The blockbuster "Pearl Harbor" will make its home video debut on Dec. 4, just days before the 60th anniversary of the actual attack. The movie will be available in several different packages with extras. The basic editions, both two-tape VHS and two-disc DVD, will include a documentary on the actual attack and the Faith Hill music video "There You`ll Be." Additionally, the DVD will include an introduction by director Michael Bay, cast interviews and coverage of the return to Pearl Harbor of USS Arizona survivors for the premier of the movie.

A "Commemorative Gift Set" includes all of the above plus a copy of "National Geographic Beyond the Movie: Pearl Harbor" - a film which brings together the movie, script, historians, actors and actual event film footage to explore the real attack. It also includes a National Geographic map, detailing Pearl Harbor of Dec. 7, 1941. The flip side has a map of the world as its political boundaries existed at that time.

A director`s cut of the movie will be released in January.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

Sept. 25: DVD and VHS debut of the seven-part Ric Burns documentary "New York," with two all-new episodes.

Oct. 9: Renee Zellweger pulls off another improbable triumph in "Bridget Jones`s Diary" with Hugh Grant and Colin Firth.

Oct. 23: Janet McTeer is a musicologist in 1907 who ventures into the Appalachian mountains to record Irish and Scotch folk songs in "Songcatcher." Also stars Aidan Quinn, Jane Adams and Taj Mahal.

Oct. 23: Kate Hudson leads an attractive young cast in the romantic comedy "About Adam."

Oct. 23: Houseguests overstay their visit in the creepy thriller "With a Friend Like Harry."

Oct. 30: DVD debut of the Richard Pryor-Gene Wilder 1989 reunion "See No Evil, Hear No Evil."

(c) Copley News Service

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Author: Robert J. Hawkins

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