Sunday, February 21, 2021

Joe Dirt/Joe Dirt 2


(Happy Madison, 2001/2015) Noble and I have been watching every Adam Sandler/Happy Madison/Happy Madison adjacent movie for the last few months, as he fills out a spreadsheet he created documenting Sandler-signature tropes and peccadillos (Sandler wearing shorts; cruel bullying portrayed as a virtue; hiring Allen Covert; Rob Schneider ethnic impersonation; audible fart, etc.), with a goal of creating a database revealing the Sandler-iest of the Sandler pictures. We are in the home stretch now, and to be thorough we are checking out DVD releases to see if deleted scenes change any tallies, or to find short bonus films to add to the list.  Anyhow, you get a few surprises along the way, and the most pleasant one came on my recent viewing of David Spade's reliably, if mildly, funny tribute to White trash culture, Joe Dirt. The two-decade old comedy has aged well, not only because juvenile potty humor is relatively timeless, but mainly because Spade seemed really invested in creating a sympathetic, ethical, innocent, humble hero, whose lowbrow taste and toothless braggadocio define him less than his innate likability. As in Spade's far inferior, Dickie Roberts, which is jarringly closer to an MOR family comedy than almost anything else in the Sandlerverse, things shake out so that in the end the lovable loser gets way more lovable and way less loser-ish. 
   The recent death of Rush Limbaugh, whose jokes seemed very poorly executed to my ears' funnybones, led to online discussions about which conservative funnymen are, in fact, funny men. Sandler and Spade were celebrated, with the caveat that they are publicly soft spoken about any Republican leanings. However, possibly the most conservative element of the Happy Madison comedies is their definition of "good guy." Why is it so important that Deuce Bigelow and Bucky Larson not actually have sex while thriving at sex work? Why is there noble dignity in working at a toll booth but slutty shame in serving at Hooters? And while it is funny how casually nonplussed Joe Dirt is to be trapped in the sex abuse pit of Silence of the Lamb's cross-dressing killer, why is it considered so hilarious for the random Farley brother, and other typical Sandler supporting characters, to want to humiliate Joe for being victimized? Well, whatever the reason is for this sex-negative sympathetic protagonist formula, one thing is for sure: Joe nails it. He is completely adorable, and Spade's light, earnest constant joking, especially in the Dennis Miller shock jock radio interview framing device, is delightful.  There are two slow-developing poop joke set pieces in the film, but the bathroom humor is more a declaration of proud juvenility than it is a defining feature. Joe Dirt is a movie about liking Joe Dirt. 
    I had seen the film years ago, and it made a good impression, as the fun film follows the model of the first and most recent Pee Wee pictures, putting our manchild hero on a grand road trip mission. But the DVD proved a real treat and elevated my esteem for the movie because there were two commentary tracks. Spade's was good, demonstrating how proud and invested he was in the project (he put up his own money to afford Christopher Walken) and some of his comedy philosophy ("big teeth, big laughs") and returning again and again to his pride in coming in under budget so that they could afford the classic rock song licenses the film needed to get the trailer park flavor just right.
    But the commentary from director Dennie Gordon was the treasure. A lot of the pleasure was in hearing her genuine pride in this silly film, and her affection and loyalty to her crew (putting them in as extras for fun, for example). But what was really good was her technical insights, breaking down the shots and the lighting and framing, explaining how even how very dumb comedy needs to be executed just right so the jokes hit. During the part where Joe and his Native American fried find a nuclear bomb she explains broadly how jokes and reveals were re-scripted to make them work better, explains how shots were composed to get the most oomph, marvels at a perfect lens flare during a driving shot, and most impressively, breaks down the composition of the shot in which pounds of diarrhea drips on Joe's head to makes you appreciate the cinematic craftsmanship and deftness needed to make a poopy head joke as funny and effective as possible.
    Which is why I had high hopes for Joe Dirt 2, which reunited most of the original cast and some of the original creative team (though not Gordon). Sure it was 14 years after the original, and was produced by Crackle, a streaming service on which you can watch episodes of The Critic, sequenced out of order, that look like VHS transfers and stop for commercials mid-joke. But's Joe Dirt...we love that guy!
    This may not be the the actual worst movie I've ever seen, but it is the most disappointed and frustrated I've ever been watching a movie, and it is SOOOOOO BAAAAAD! What is most foundationally off-putting about it is that it doesn't even look like a movie. At all. Any lessons learned on the set of the original about the craft of comedy filmmaking was buried under pounds of diarrhea. Many, many, many of the shots are just someone (often a Playmate/porn-looking starlet in an awkward sexy stance) standing mid-frame, shot in antiseptic Hi Def with bright, depth free lighting, saying a bad line awkwardly that does not fit the timing of the scene and looks unlike a movie or commercial or real life...or anything.  
    And the crazy thing is this movie's narrative is an ambitious time travel/It's Wonderful Life/dirtbag Forest Gump thing (i.e. time travel Joe sees teenage Skynyrd playing in a club and mentors them towards their destiny/true band name, dismissing the faux Van Zandt's deathly unfunny series of gay band name choices). But the execution was so bad it made me feel shame for finishing the movie and made me deeply dislike everyone involved in its production. I always assumed because he is relatively funny in everything I've seen prior to this that Patrick Warburton was OK, but he was so unfunny delivering such basely awful and terrible material in this that moving forward he might as well have white power tattoos on his face as far as my sympathies towards him. This movie is so bad it feels like a hate crime, and not for the endless homophobic jokes, but for just being deeply, deeply, deeply awful.
    Roseanne Barr and Gary Busey were originally shot as Dirt's lost parents in the first film, but Gordon reveals in the commentary that they were so recognizable it took away from the comedy, so they reshot with the very funny Caroline Aaron and Fred Ward. Not only would they have NEVER considered losing footage of a celebrity in JD2, but I don't believe they shot a frame of sterile, soulless Hi-Def video that they didn't use.This is just a filthy toilet full of one take terribleness by people who it is hard to believe ever knew how to make a movie. I don't know why Walken agreed to be in this, but he made a terrible mistake. I don't know why Kid Rock knew to turn this down (his role re-cast with the Sugar Ray guy, who is dead to me now), but ROck has now earned a level of feel respect from me. I don't know exactly what my current opinion of David Spade is, but I do know that after watching the original Joe Dirt commentaries my opinion of him as a comic, a person, and a moviemaker soared. I was re-accessing his prominence in the Sandlerverse and proudly rooting for him moving forward. I was willing to fall under the spell of cinema and transfer Joe Dirt's nice guy/lovable/worthy winner attributes to the goofy character's creator. Not so much anymore.
    If there is one good thing about Joe Dirt 2 is that there's no DVD commentary or bonus features of any sort, which is a blessing. I could not spend one more second with that fucking Dirtball...a dirtball that one DVD ago I was willing to spend my whole life with.
    But that's the way the dirt crumbles.

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