Although Joe Dirt has no formal connection to Saturday Night Live, it feels like one of the show’s multiple movie spin-offs. Is there anything to differentiate Dirt from flicks like Wayne’s World, Superstar or Coneheads? Not really, other than the fact it didn’t originate with a sketch character.
Instead, it just feels like Joe Dirt was someone we might have seen on SNL. As created by SNL veteran David Spade, the eponymous character resembles the sort of one-note role often featured in the program’s sketches. This kind of part might work fine for a five-minute skit, but he didn’t sustain a feature film well.
Joe Dirt uses a time-honored flashback narrative to tell the tale of the title character. When we meet him, Joe’s a janitor at an LA radio station. He quickly comes to the attention of Zander Kelly (Dennis Miller), a nasty radio personality in the same vein as Howard Stern. Joe’s redneck tendencies make him an easy target for Kelly, who prompts Joe to tell his life story.
From there, we spend most of the film in the past. We see how Joe got detached from his parents, who he attempts to find through much of the movie. We also watch him meet with Brandy (Brittany Daniel), a sexy babe with whom he becomes friends. However, Joe and Brandy don’t take the relationship past the level of friendship, mainly because Joe feels she’s too hot for him. That’s true, though Brandy clearly thinks differently.
Anyway, we watch Joe as he covers the nation in search of his family. He encounters many different folks, from Indian fireworks stand owner/aspiring veterinarian Kicking Wing (Adam Beach) to Clem (Christopher Walken), an elementary school janitor with a secret. His quest leads them through his life, and he encounters many comic situations along the way.
Perhaps I should call them “allegedly” comic situations, for Joe Dirt provides precious few laughs. I can’t call myself a big fan of Spade’s work, but I think he can be quite amusing given the right material. Joe Dirt doesn’t match that distinction, as it offers little more than the typical crude material that occupies much comedy these days. As with former SNL cohort Adam Sandler’s recent Little Nicky, Spade seems to think that the combination of gross-out gags and a moronic but kind-hearted lead will create a hilarious piece. Nicky was a dud which fails to stand as Sandler’s worst film only due to the existence of Big Daddy. Spade has less of a track record against which to compare, but Dirt would look weak no matter what.
Part of the problem stems from Spade’s attempt to spread his wings. He’s mastered a cynical, selfish and sarcastic persona that suited him exceptionally well for Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove, but he backs away from that tone here. Joe’s too dumb to display the nasty self-awareness of other Spade roles, and while I think it’s nice to see him attempt something different, this stab fails due to a lack of personality. Spade feels oddly subdued and restrained throughout most of the film. He gets off a couple of decent lines, but for the most part, I thought he appeared strangely drab and lifeless as Joe. Spade does little to make the role stand out, and he comes across like a bit of a cipher at the head of the movie.
Dirt doesn’t attempt to match the gross-out heights of some recent flicks like Saving Silverman. In a way, that makes its crude bits more unpleasant, if just because they became less predictable. There’s some really disgusting material on display at times; Dirt lacks the frequency, but the intensity remains.
Joe Dirt can’t decide if it wants to mock its white trash hero or embrace him. As such, the film becomes something of a confused mish-mash that never seems very coherent. That flaw could be forgiven if the humor was good, but unfortunately, most of the movie’s gags fell flat, and it seemed like a lackluster, uninvolving piece.
Joe Dirt appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the widescreen picture was reviewed for this article. Across the board, Dirt provided a terrific image that displayed almost no concerns.
Sharpness looked consistently crisp and detailed. I saw no signs of softness or fuzziness, as the movie always appeared distinct and well defined. Moiré effects and jagged edges also provided no problems. In regard to print flaws, I saw a few specks here and there, but for the most part, this was a clean and fresh image.
Colors looked nicely bright and vibrant. Dirt provided a fairly broad and varied palette that used a number of different hues to its advantage. These always came across as clear and accurate, with no problems related to noise, running, or other issues. Black levels were deep and rich, and shadow detail looked appropriately heavy but not excessively opaque. Ultimately, Joe Dirt offered a very solid visual experience.
Also good was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Joe Dirt. Like most comedies, the soundfield of Dirt offered a relatively subdued affair, but the mix provided a reasonably involving experience. The forward spectrum dominated the track, as I heard good stereo separation for the music and positive localization for effects. Those latter elements showed fine localization and smooth panning, and the surrounds also added a nice level of reinforcement. For the most part, the rear channels mainly stayed with general ambience, but they came nicely to life on a few occasions, such as when the “meteorite” plunged to earth.
Audio quality seemed to be fairly solid. Some dialogue sounded a bit flat and muddy at times, but as a whole speech was acceptably natural and distinct, with no edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music was nicely vibrant and lively, as the score and the many period tunes offered clear highs and good lows that made them pack a nice punch. Effects also came across as clear and accurate, and they could boast a lot of bass at times; for example, I thought the nuclear blast would truly devastate my house! Overall, this was a relatively modest track, but Joe Dirt sounded good enough to warrant a “B”.
Although not formally touted as a special edition, Joe Dirt packs in a number of extras. Most significant are the two separate audio commentaries. The first offers a running, screen-specific affair from actor/co-writer David Spade. Objectively, this is a pretty spotty track, as Spade provides only a little real information about the film, and a fair number of gaps appear throughout the commentary; the latter never become overwhelming in length, but they add up due to volume. Despite those concerns, I liked Spade’s track, for he offered just enough humor to make it worthwhile. Not surprisingly, he took a semi-mocking tone toward the flick and himself, and this made the track rather enjoyable. Spade’s more than happy to point out various flaws, so the commentary became a moderate amount of fun.
The second track comes from director Dennie Gordon, who also contributes a running, screen-specific affair. Unfortunately, her commentary wasn’t nearly as witty and entertaining as Spade’s. She contributes a bit more information than he does, but she also seems a lot more pleased with herself and the film. Much of Gordon’s track sticks with bland discussions of how great everyone was and how funny everything is. That tone would be tiresome under the best of conditions, but it seems especially weak after Spade’s witty track. On the positive side, Gordon seems fairly personable and engaging, which helps let the commentary pass more quickly. Nonetheless, it was a rather bland piece that didn’t add a whole lot of good information.
Next we get a collection of “Deleted and Alternate Scenes”. Available with or without commentary from Gordon, we find three segments, each of which runs between 29 seconds and 47 seconds for a total of 121 seconds of footage. None of them are better or worse than anything in the final film. As for Gordon’s remarks, she sheds a little light on the reasons for their excision, which is about all she can do given their brief running times.
The “Bloopers and Outtakes Reel” adds three minutes and five seconds of footage. This is the usual batch of silliness, though the presence of Spade and Dennis Miller makes it more entertaining than most.
Lastly, we find “Filmographies” for director Gordon plus actors Spade, Miller, Christopher Walken, Brittany Daniel, and Kid Rock, plus “Theatrical Trailers” for Dirt, Tomcats, Loser, Can’t Hardly Wait and Saving Silverman. The case also includes a booklet with some brief production notes.
While Joe Dirt isn’t the worst of the “gross-out” movies I’ve seen, it still provides a pretty weak experience. The flick generates a laugh or two, but most of it falls flat. The DVD offers an excellent picture, however, with solid sound and some decent extras. Die-hard David Spade fans may want to give Joe Dirt a look, but I think even they will feel disappointed by it.