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Defending the Unloved–DIRTY WORK

Every year plenty of movies come out that are quickly dismissed as not being worthy of your attention, but sometimes all a movie needs to succeed is a second chance. In “Defending the Unloved” we look at some movies that were critically panned, but are a lot better than they were given credit for. Without further ado, we begin:

Dirty Work

Rotten Tomatoes

Critics Score – 17%
Audience Score – 66%

“Why does Hollywood think that everyone who ever appeared on Saturday Night Live deserves a film career as a reward? What’s the excuse for showcasing Norm Macdonald, a third-rate Dennis Miller knockoff whose delivery is slower than Priority Mail?”

“A movie that makes even Don Rickles unfunny.”

The Norm Macdonald movie “Dirty Work,” which opened yesterday, is a stupid lowdown vulgar comedy. I can’t really recommend it except to people who like stupid lowdown vulgar comedy.”

I’m not a fan of ballet, but I understand its appeal to others. I love hockey, but obviously it’s not for everyone. We don’t have to personally enjoy something to recognize its value; we all have our own tastes, and it’s not a reflection on who we are when we dislike something someone else admires.


Because I have no idea how someone could dislike Dirty Work, Norm Macdonald’s 1998 revenge comedy.

I suppose it’s possible you just don’t like Norm Macdonald, but since that seems unlikely it must have something to do with the film, the one where Macdonald’s Mitch Weaver opens up a revenge-for-hire business with his lifelong best friend Sam McKenna, played by Artie Lange.

The movie has a clear and simple plot that gives it a clear motivation: the two friends needs to raise enough money to get Sam’s father a heart transplant, but, since the only thing the clever but otherwise weak Mitch has ever been good at is getting back at people, they open up Dirty Work, a business where they get paid to enact revenge for people.

The movie is funny from start to finish (being funny is the entire point of a comedy), and uses any and all types of humor to make you laugh, including sight gags, crass jokes, one-liners, awkwardness, lots of deadpan, and a cast made up entirely of hilarious people doing what they are best at.

Chevy Chase is understated in his role as the surgeon who needs 50 grand to get out of his gambling debts, the great Jack Warden plays the horny and wholly inappropriate father of Sam, and Christopher McDonald is perfect as the rich, smug villain, a man who is far too into his dog. Then there are great cameos, like Don Rickles as the world’s meanest movie theater manager, David Koechner as a slimy used car salesman, and Chris Farley as the angry barfly Jimmy who had his nose bitten off my a Saigon prostitute.

Artie Lange might be the only one in the entire movie that isn’t playing up to expectations, since Sam isn’t as in your face as you might expect, but he is still absurd, and can somehow yell even when he’s speaking normally.Plus, the funniest running joke in the entire movie is the terrible, way-too-tight polo shirt Sam wears, that no one ever comments on, but is funny every time you watch the movie.

Lange is also endearing, more than Macdonald’s Mitch, but Mitch has a heart as well. For being about revenge, the movie does have an emotional core, based in the two friends long relationship, and in Mitch’s desire to actually fix the horrible mistake he made in accidentally helping Macdonald’s Travis Cole screw over some innocent people.

But what makes the movie so good is how consistently funny it is. Can it be crass at times? Yes, but so what? This isn’t meant to be Annie Hall. Sometimes the jokes are really smart too, or the humor comes from the characters themselves, but it’s a testament to the Bob Saget-directed film that it is willing to do anything to make you laugh.

Looking back, it isn’t exactly the most progressive of movies in some aspects, but, if we start going back and dismissing old comedies as inappropriate because of the advances we’ve made as a society the last couple of decades, we’re going to be deeming lots of our favorite films as unworthy of our time.

Even those jokes aren’t as bad as the comedies of the ’70s and ’80s, and one of those scenes is still my favorite, when Mitch and Sam go to jail, and Mitch is escorted off-screen by a group of large men. The humor comes not from what we can infer has happened to him, but by everything around it, especially his response to it.

A comedy is supposed to be funny, and Dirty Work manages to do that the entire time. It put its cast in the best position to be successful, and was willing to do anything to make you laugh. So even if you don’t love deadpan there were plenty of sight gags, and even if broad, over-the-top silliness isn’t your thing, there was plenty of character driven jokes.

So sure, we can dislike something others love without our opinion being a reflection on who we are, but when it comes to Dirty Work I have a hard time seeing the other side. The movie is funny, and I can’t understand why it needs to be defended in the first place.

What do you think of Dirty Work? Underrated or unworthy of love? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

Images: MGM

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