DIRTY WORK (1998)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 22 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Crude Sexual Humor and Language

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Directed by: Bob Saget

Written by: Frank Sebastiano, Norm Macdonald & Fred Wolf

Starring: Norm Macdonald, Artie Lange, Jack Warden, Traylor Howard, Chris Farley, Christopher McDonald & Chevy Chase

DIRTY WORK was released during a time when Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey, and Chris Farley were up and coming comedic talents. With two of those three being SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE alumni, it seemed like there were extra efforts made to launch SNL cast members into big screen superstardom. Norm Macdonald and his oddball sense of humor never quite succeeded as a box office draw. McDonald is front and center in the underappreciated DIRTY WORK, an entertainingly juvenile comedy directed by none other than Bob Saget (fresh out of FULL HOUSE). The film isn’t high art or near the level of other well-known 90’s comedies, but it’s funny and just plain fun for 82 minutes.

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Mitch Weaver (Norm Macdonald) has grown up with the life lesson of “never take crap from anybody,” but that’s all he seems to be taking on a daily basis. During one particularly terrible day, Mitch loses is job, is dumped by his girlfriend and his best friend’s father Pops (Jack Warden) has a heart attack. In order to save Pops’ life, Mitch and his best friend Sam (Artie Lange, from MAD TV) have to raise 50 thousand dollars within two weeks. When their efforts to make an honest living fail, the pair decide to start an unconventional revenge-for-hire business. This gains Mitch the eye of attractive love-interest Kathy (Traylor Howard) and turns a corrupt businessman (Christopher McDonald) against him.

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DIRTY WORK runs for only 82 minutes, meaning this movie is never given much room to wear out its welcome. The film moves from set piece to set piece with the skeleton of a story holding it all together. The overall plot is flimsy at best, but the film keeps a solid pace and delivers a handful of big laughs. The set pieces range from goofy to crude to just plain odd (after all, this film stars Norm Macdonald), with most of them being very funny. There are a few jokes that fall flat, mainly in two annoying running gags. The first is that Pops uses the word “whore” as much as humanly possible in an effort for cheap laughs. The second is that Mitch constantly records notes to himself and all of these are lame.

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DIRTY WORK delivers in its crazy revenge scenarios, giving viewers the satisfaction of watching jerks get their well-deserved comeuppances. The victims of Mitch’s business are mostly cameos, the biggest of which I won’t dare spoil here (there was a recognizable face that got an audible reaction out of me), but these include the likes of Don Rickles as an abusive movie theater manager and David Koechner as a crooked car salesman. Norm Macdonald plays lovable loser Mitch, but I only saw Norm Macdonald on the screen. This might have resulted from my borderline obsession with this strange comedian or his character being poorly written.

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Artie Lange is good enough as goofy sidekick Sam, while Jack Warden is well-cast as Pops (even if his whore jokes did become rather tiresome). Traylor Howard barely receives enough screen time to resonate and I completely forgot about her one-note character a third of the way into the film, until she reappeared to move the plot forward. Christopher McDonald is underused as evil businessman Travis Cole and basically plays HAPPY GILMORE’s Shooter McGavin under a different name. Chris Farley screams, yells, and thrashes his arms as a drunken man who had his nose bitten off by a hooker. His performance is just as colorful and outrageous as that character sounds. The funniest side character of the entire film is easily Chevy Chase as a doctor who’s in deep with thuggish bookies. His brief moments are the film’s biggest highlights.

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DIRTY WORK’s brisk running time simultaneously works for and against the film. The plot feels like it’s hitting expected notes and beats out of mere obligation, as opposed to a natural progression of events. The set pieces are great, but the story is flaky. The acting ranges all across the board, with a supporting Chevy Chase being the biggest scene-stealer. Still, DIRTY WORK delivers in bringing laughs to the screen and entertaining the viewer for its entire running time. If you need some time to kill and are looking for an underrated comedy that’s been forgotten by time, DIRTY WORK comes recommended!

Grade: B-

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