Dicks: The Musical Has Plenty of Laughs, But It’s Hard to Love

Movies Reviews Larry Charles
Dicks: The Musical Has Plenty of Laughs, But It’s Hard to Love

After nearly 50 years on the air, Saturday Night Live’s legacy in cinema is equally defined by its occasional meteoric successes and its many failures to launch, including both movies based directly on the show’s sketches and performers who couldn’t quite hack it as comic leads. Yet even when the show isn’t mass-producing megastars, there’s something to be said for its ability to ease certain comic styles into the mainstream so that they don’t feel wildly out of place when they show up in a movie. Bowen Yang, for example, may not be a movie star, but he kills it often enough on SNL to earn the awkward fanfare afforded his role as God in Dicks: The Musical. Regular viewers of that show will perk up every time he appears, same as fans of Will Forte or Tim Meadows will do when they pop up unexpectedly in a movie or TV show.

The problem here is, Yang’s part feels shoehorned into a thin narrative, designed to pad the running time and boost the movie’s star power. Or maybe the problem is that Yang’s routine needs someone else – a scene partner; a Weekend Update anchor; anyone – to bounce off of. Or maybe the problem is that this is the kind of project called Dicks: The Musical that features God delivering gay-culture wisecracks whose outrageousness quickly become predictable. Unfortunately, there are a lot of candidates for reasons Dicks doesn’t quite rise on the big screen. (Get it?! If you get it, and can imagine the next six steps’ worth of ribald imagery, you might have an idea of how this movie will go.)

There are also a lot of laughs. Fundamentally, this put-on-a-show adaptation of an Off-Broadway musical (a two-man show that hit the Upright Citizens Brigade stage in New York) has an infectiously goofy, what-the-fuck premise: Trevor (Aaron Jackson) and Craig (Josh Sharp) are a pair of preening, hypermasculine, hyperselfish, just-plain-hyper salesmen for the same vacuum-parts company who discover they are identical twins (played, the opening crawl clarifies, by two brave gay men – who, it should be noted, are decidedly not identical). One grew up with their father Harris (Nathan Lane), while the other grew up with their mother Evelyn (Megan Mullally), and neither was ever aware the other existed. Strangers, then rivals, then co-conspirators in a plot to reunite their family… yes, they are inexplicably in an adult Parent Trap situation. Very adult. With a bunch of very adult songs parodying Broadway-style sincerity as vigorously as Sharp and Jackson parody heterosexuality. Whenever the movie cuts to a “New York” exterior, it uses a different anachronistic shot from, I’m told by the editor, Getty stock photos.

Doesn’t that sound fun? Again: There are a lot of laughs. Several of the songs are showstoppers. So, unfortunately, is the direction of sketch-to-film veteran Larry Charles, in the sense that his clunky cutting all but halts the parodic rhythms of Jackson and Sharp’s compositions. Moreover, Sharp and Jackson take some getting used to without the soft launch of SNL. They have the energy and the fearlessness of great comic actors – Jackson has some Jim Carrey vibes – but they paint themselves into a corner by expending so much material on their spiritual-if-not-actual-physical interchangeability. They can’t develop so much as a Step Brothers level of differentiation, much less the stealth richness of a Beavis and Butt-Head pairing.

Instead, Dicks throws bones like a guest performance from Megan Thee Stallion, playing the boys’ boss with plenty of swagger but not many jokes. “Out-Alpha the Alpha” threatens to turn her charisma into tired shtick, trawling for applause like a cringe-y theater kid. For that matter, Yang’s interjections have a pretty low hit rate compared to his sketch appearances, too. There is, however, some old-and-new frisson in the way powerhouse Broadway vets Lane and Mullally mix with newer-school comedians Sharp and Jackson. Lane, whose Harris quickly comes out as gay and less predictably reveals an affection for a pair of creatures known as the Sewer Boys, is particularly agile when skipping through the say-anything absurdity. Mullally, meanwhile, is stuck, well, saying anything: Doing a “funny” enfeebled voice and reciting a litany of old-weirdo-of-indeterminate-age jokes. Some are good; almost all feel vaguely ripped off from Mr. Burns on The Simpsons. One that’s too raunchy for that show is simply run into the ground.

Look, Dicks: The Musical zips by (at least until a drawn-out finale), and was self-evidently a blast to make; that’s obvious even before a parade of credits bloopers showing the cast understandably cracking themselves up. But it’s hard to escape the feeling that it all plays a lot better live, where minimal sets are an artistic choice and a rich sketch-comedy tradition, rather than a cause for extensive green-screening, and where quasi-ironic mugging is almost always endearing. On the big screen, even with an appreciative hooting-and-hollering crowd, it’s a reminder that there’s no rule stating that the laughs have to actually add up.

Director: Larry Charles
Writer: Aaron Jackson, Josh Sharp
Starring: Josh Sharp, Aaron Jackson, Nathan Lane, Megan Mullally, Megan Thee Stallion, Bowen Yang
Release Date: October 6, 2023

Jesse Hassenger is associate movies editor at Paste. He also writes about movies and other pop-culture stuff for a bunch of outlets including Polygon, Inside Hook, Vulture, and SportsAlcohol.com, where he also has a podcast. Following @rockmarooned on Twitter is a great way to find out about what he’s watching or listening to, and which terrifying flavor of Mountain Dew he has most recently consumed.

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