Case in point: Lost and Found. This flyweight romantic comedy, in which a yappy L.A. restaurant owner dognaps his gorgeous neighbor's yappy cairn terrier in order to return the beast later and win her heart is basically an inflated TV episode, and it suffers from an overdose of Spade-work. The three screenwriters--longtime Spade collaborator J.B. Cook, Mark Meeks, and the ex-Saturday Night Live star himself--pay very little attention to niceties like story sense, comic breathing room, or originality of plot. For them, this is strictly connect-the-dots stuff. But they provide the showy Spade with enough aggressive, smart-ass dialogue to stock three or four movies, and near the end of the proceedings, he gets to do a major Neil Diamond impersonation at a patio party--just in case we forgot how versatile he is. No shred of scenery remains unchewed.
Spade's character here, Dylan Ramsey, is virtually indistinguishable from any character he has played in previous comedies (Tommy Boy or Coneheads). That's because Dylan is also virtually indistinguishable from the wall-to-wall jokester who inhabits TV's Just Shoot Me or who trades barbs with Jay Leno. There's only one David Spade, it appears, and he's the guy who, in the momentary guise of Dylan Ramsey, announces to an adversary: "I'm from here. I think fast, and I talk fast."
Well, OK. Bravado aside, there's certainly some entertainment value in Spade's brand of thinking and talking. But with his mop of blond hair, his eighth-grader's physique, and his supercilious air, he won't convince many people that he's a romantic leading man. Lost and Found's glaring conceit, in fact, is the claim that Spade's wisecracking pest can eventually put forth enough charm to win over a sleek French beauty (Sophie Marceau--Princess Isabel in Braveheart) who plays the cello and has somehow come to ground in the apartment next door to his. Little matter that the lovely Lila's snobbish former boyfriend, a French pianist named Rene (Patrick Buel), is an arrogant dope who wears $2,000 suits, drives a fat Mercedes, and preens before mirrors. As an alternative, Dylan hardly seems to fill the bill. For one thing, Spade's a head shorter than Marceau; for another, he talks a little too fast, and his knowingness is a bit too relentless.
Meanwhile, Spade remains as eager as ever to mow down his co-stars, and director Jeff Pollack--who was a real estate developer and the executive producer of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air before turning his attention to movies--wasn't about to stop the onslaught. Along with Marceau, whose sole function here is to look scenic, Spade annihilates the best efforts of Buel, bulky Artie Lange (who plays Wally, the head schlub from Dylan's restaurant and the butt of his jokes) and a selection of cameo players, including Jon Lovitz as a crazy animal shrink who whispers to dogs and Martin Sheen as a millionaire banker who may or may not decide to prop up Dylan Ramsey's troubled eatery.
Judge for yourself the quality of the movie's physical humor. When Lila's beloved dog swallows a pivotal diamond ring, Dylan and Wally find themselves trying to retrieve it after an appropriate period of canine digestion. The quartet of old ladies these screenwriters have thrown into the movie as feature-length filler play strip poker and make fart jokes. Whenever the pace lags and the comic substance wanes--which is often--director Pollack stages another fiery disaster in the restaurant kitchen, or else homes in on a handy 12-year-old whose purpose in life is to torment his elders.
In the end, Dylan Ramsey/David Spade is just a little too pleased with himself and his bons mots to please us too. In the little war between charm and belligerence that is the real centerpiece of Lost and Found, romantic comedy takes a beating. You can't help feeling that when the hero gets the girl, a grave injustice has been done. Along the way, you might find yourself rooting for the creepy piano player from Paris.
Lost and Found.
Directed by Jeff Pollack. Written by J.B. Cook, Mark Meeks, and David Spade. Starring Spade, Sophie Marceau, Patrick Buel, and Artie Lange. Opens Friday.