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Dirty Deeds (A Movie Review)

Updated: Aug 13, 2021

Dirty Deeds

Dirty Deeds


Starring Milo Ventimiglia, Lacey Chabert, Tom Amandes, Matthew Carey, Mark Derwin, Charles Durning, Michael Milhoan, Billy L. Sullivan, Zoë Saldana, Alex Solowitz, Ray Santiago, Michael Sullivan, Danso Gordon, Arielle Kebbel, Erin Torpey, Wes Robinson, Fred Meyers, Dave Power and Keith Britton.

Screenplay by Jon Land and Jonathan Thies.

Directed by David Kendall.

Distributed by Green Diamond Entertainment.  87 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

High school comedies had a brief renaissance in the ’90s, with the likes of American Pie, Dazed and Confused and Can’t Hardly Wait, but while this film aspires to being those pictures (or such early 80s inspirations like Porkys, The Last American Virgin and Risky Business), strangely the one that this movie seems to have been inspired the most by is a long-forgotten early 80s guilty pleasure called Midnight Madness.

That was about a group of college kids who were racing around Los Angeles all night in a city-wide scavenger hunt.  Midnight Madness was only the second PG rated film ever released by the traditionally kid-friendly Disney.  (The first was a sci-fi flick called The Black Hole.)  It starred that era’s almost-stars David Naughton (hero of An American Werewolf in London and the long series of “I’m A Pepper” Dr. Pepper commercials), Debra Clinger (an early 80s beauty who appeared in the short-lived “jiggle” series All-American Girls), Steven Furst (Flounder of Animal House) and Eddie Deezen (the greatest nerd actor ever.)  It is also notable for being the movie that gave Michael J. Fox his first significant movie role (as Naughton’s angry, misunderstood young brother) and had an early cameo by Pee Wee Herman.

As a critic, I know full well that Midnight Madness was not a good film.  The dialogue was silly, the characters were clichés, the humor was broad, the acting was overwrought and the storyline didn’t really make sense.  Yet, over the years, any time the movie is on TV, I can’t help but watch and I never fail to enjoy it.

Dirty Deeds is similar to the older film in the fact that the storyline was very similar – a high school has a mythic group of “deeds” – juvenile pranks that a student must perform through-out the night in different parts of town.  Over the years, only one person has ever completed all ten of the deeds, however every year someone in the school flames out spectacularly while trying.

The movie is also comparable because even though I realize intellectually that it’s not all that great; it doesn’t make much sense, the characters are kind of clichés – it was still a lot of fun.

Milo Ventimiglia plays Zach, a cute (but charmingly disheveled) rebel without a cause but with a big chip on his shoulder.  He hates his hometown, he hates the school, in fact he hates everything but his stunning classmate Meg.

Lacey Chabert, interestingly, plays Meg as the exact same beautiful-but-brainy good girl role that she played in Not Another Teen Movie, which, ironically, was a parody of the role that her former Party of Five castmate Jennifer Love Hewitt played inCan’t Hardly Wait.  Still, she’s good at the role, so you can’t complain that much.  Of course, Meg doesn’t have any idea that Zach digs her, but she does see the nice guy behind the cool anti-establishment pose.

Zach has to come to the rescue when Meg’s nerdy younger brother challenges the sadistic football star Dan to a head-to-head contest of the Deeds.  Instead, Zach takes them on himself, going on a delinquent quest to steal local landmarks, find a prom queen’s bra, steal a car worth over $100,000.  Good, clean fun.  Despite Dan’s constant attempts to sabotage him, Zach doggedly goes after each prank to prove himself to the town and to Meg.  In the meantime, all the other teens in town party raucously while keeping track of Zach’s progress.

Charles Durning and Zoë Saldana show up for slightly-below-their-stature cameos, but at least they are both kind of funny.  (Durning really chews the scenery here, though…)

There is very little surprising here and the film all too often goes for low gross-out humor.  However, it is legitimately amusing.  You may not understand exactly why you like Dirty Deeds, but don’t be surprised if you do.  (8/05)

Dave Strohler

Copyright ©2005  All rights reserved. Posted: August 18, 2005.

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