There's something vaguely subversive about comedian Norm Macdonald's insistence on depersonalizing everything and everyone. In his new movie "Dirty Work," he impersonally greets other characters with flat, under-descriptive monikers ("Hey, homeless guys"; "OK, building tenants"; "hey, fat lady").
He even regards himself in this reductive fashion, both in his sheer refusal to "act" and in the blithe way his character is routinely brutalized (he's the victim of an off-screen prison gang rape that's played--with shocking improbability and even more shocking success--for laughs). It's as if he's telling the audience that even trying with material like this would just be unhip.
"Dirty Work" centers on a revenge-for-hire business in which everyone, even the kindly grandmother of the pert love interest, is fair game for retribution or humiliation. It's a comedy driven not by character but rather by the utter lack of it.
"Dirty Work" clocks in at a flyweight 81 minutes, leaving the audience to consider the mountains of worse stuff left in the editing bay's trash can, and is a tone-deaf, scattershot and dispiritingly cheesy affair with more groans than laughs. Certainly Macdonald, a former "Saturday Night Live" regular, does uncork a few solid one-liners, so there are more real laughs here than in, say, the glossier and even more predictable "Six Days, Seven Nights." What thoroughly, irrevocably kills "Dirty Work" is its production-value-free, direct-to-video-quality tinniness.
Bob Saget, he of the soft stand-up routines, the lame sitcom and the wacky home videos, directs like he acts, with an eye decidedly on the obvious. More dismayingly, his performers act like Saget acts as well.
With the exception of Jack Warden and the late Chris Farley, who put way too much oomph into their small, thankless roles of old and young leches, respectively, no one in the cast ratchets his or her performance above the level of a listless shrug. Perhaps this is to divert attention from Macdonald's inability to put an ounce of conviction into his performance (which, in a roundabout way, is amusing in and of itself), but it doesn't help the movie much.
The plot is negligible. Macdonald is Mitch and Artie Lange plays Sam, two losers who couldn't hold a job if it were stuck to their fingers with Krazy Glue. Their only talent is indulging in schoolboy-style pranks, so when Sam's dad (Warden) falls ill, they decide to raise money for a heart transplant by opening a business in which they play pranks for bucks.
Their gags are largely uninspired, of the cherry-bomb-in-the-toilet variety. They encounter the usual pitfalls and pratfalls before the perfunctory happy ending, at which point Macdonald dismisses the audience with a desultory, "That's it."
"Dirty Work" got a little free publicity recently when NBC West Coast President Don Ohlmeyer got into a petty feud with Macdonald and initially refused to run spots for the film on his network (the edict was later partially rescinded). Now, we realize that Ohlmeyer was just doing his part in protecting America from a crummy movie. In the end, the best way to get revenge on someone who irks you is to force them to sit through this movie.
* MPAA rating: PG-13 for crude sexual humor and language. Times guidelines: Crude, mean-spirited sex is a recurring theme here.
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Norm Macdonald: Mitch
Artie Lange: Sam
Jack Warden: Pops
MGM Pictures presents a Robert Simonds/Brad Grey production. Director Bob Saget. Screenplay Frank Sebastiano, Norm Macdonald, Fred Wolf. Producer Robert Simonds. Executive producers Grey, Ray Reo. Cinematographer Arthur Albert. Production designer Gregory Keen. Music Richard Gibbs. Editor George Folsey Jr. Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.