The 100 Best Movies of the 1990s: #95 Dirty Work

Oscar Nominations: None

Oscars Wins: None

Free streaming: Tubi

Movierankings.Net: 46/100

If we are talking about the art of filmmaking, Dirty Work is not a good film. If you don’t like Norm MacDonald’s style of humor, Dirty Work is not a funny movie. However, Norm MacDonald is one of my favorite comedians and I think Dirty Work is one of the funniest movies of the decade.

This was a movie that nobody wanted during production. MGM forced the producers and director Bob Saget to make many edits after the film had already been shot. They wanted the movie, which was shot with the intention of being an R-rated, raunchy comedy, to be PG-13. Once that happened, the run time was reduced to 82 minutes. The content cuts make the film even stranger. It will allude to things with or about adult content, but it’s been deftly handled to get it to a PG-13 rating. This might be the first time someone has compared Bob Saget to Alfred Hitchcock, but just as Hitchcock involved sex in his films, Saget does the same with raunchy comedy. You know it’s happening, but it’s up to the viewer to see it.

This was a movie that no one wanted right out of production. It was reviled by critics or simply ignored. The Austin Chronicle called the dirty work “an awful and painfully unfunny comedy.” The New York Times used the terms “terminally stupid” and “brain dead.” Roger Ebert didn’t even bother to submit a review. The ticket office was not kinder. It opened the same weekend as Six Days and Seven Nights and Can’t Hardly Wait and finished in a distant 9th place.

Giphy images.

It’s easy to say that this was a movie ahead of its time, but that’s not true either. I don’t think Dirty Work would be successful or even be released in 2022. I don’t think there was ever a time for Dirty Work or Norm MacDonald to be massively successful. Or if there is such a moment, it still has to be lived.

I’ve been a big fan of Norm MacDonald ever since I saw him do Weekend Update on SNL in the mid-90s. I was lucky enough to see him do stand-up at Caroline’s in 2013 and 2014. He’s the funniest comic I’ve ever seen and his fingerprints are all over the film. Norm co-wrote Dirty Work and it’s clearly his voice. Truth be told, there was probably no way I would not have liked this movie. But what makes me love it is the amazing cast.

Norm loved and respected comedy. Watch her admiration for David Letterman here (at minute 7:45):

Bob Saget also loved comedy and between the two of them they assembled a cast of some of the funniest people on the planet. Chevy Chase. Don Rickles. James Downey. Chris Farley. They’re all in the movie, and they’re each in positions where they can be funniest. Rickles is annoying people. Downey is a sad sack. Farley is exaggerating. Best of all, Chase is the ultimate Fletch/Ty Webb. The way he can do line readings of things that aren’t jokes but make them hysterically funny is second to none. Chase was great in Community, but this is a different role. Dirty Work is the last time we see Chevy Chase in all his distant brilliance.

Watching Dirty Work, it’s hard to believe that Artie Lange and Norm didn’t know each other before production. Their friendship feels so natural and Artie completely hits the tone that Norm is going for. Their partnership paid off again on ABC’s The Norm Show, which ran for three seasons. Because as unhappy as Norm is, the people he surrounds himself with in both this movie and his show are so good at reacting. Having Artie Lange in this movie makes it more fun.

If you don’t like Norm MacDonald’s sense of humor, I won’t sell you this movie. If that’s how you see the world, don’t make the mistake of not liking dirty work. This is a matter of taste, not quality. This is not a particularly well made film. But if you like Norm at all and haven’t seen it, watch it this weekend. If you’re younger and only know him from people sharing clips of him after his death last year, check him out this weekend. Finally, if you love Norm and have seen this movie a dozen times, check it out this weekend. A lot of people involved in this movie have died, but because it’s Norm and his unique perspective, the comedy never really gets old. I promise that if you enjoyed this movie in the past, you will enjoy it again.

95. Dirty work

96. Choice

97. Tremors

98. Any Sunday

99. The wedding singer

100. Employees

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