The Adventures of Ford Fairlane

At last, a rude-boy comedian who lives up to what his critics say about him! Unlike Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, or Eddie Murphy, Andrew Dice Clay really is just a show-biz jerk who uses dirty words and cheap insults for shock value. The most surprising thing about his act isn’t that a lot of people find it funny; sometimes dirty words and cheap insults are funny. It’s that his pathetically swaggering Fonzie-on-steroids routine actually passes for retro cool.

In the ramshackle private-eye parody The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, Clay, playing the ”rock & roll detective” Ford Fairlane (an extension of his stage persona), socks people in the cajones, beds down with an endlessly available parade of rock-video bimbos, and generally struts around like someone who has overdosed on his own testosterone. He may be the most unromantic presence in the history of movies, and Ford Fairlane turns his sadistic obnoxiousness into a kind of deadening reflex. Clay likes to claim that ”the Diceman” isn’t reality — that it’s just a character he plays. I’ll buy that. But what a two-bit character! With his pompadour and ’60s-Elvis sideburns, his constantly dangling cigarette, and his relentless fixation on women as utensils, Clay is a walking cliché — the greaser as arrested-development case. He’s a star for the ’90s, all right, a hero for an America Norman Mailer said is fast becoming ”a nation of louts.”

Yet I’d be lying if I said he had no charisma. Clay’s hateful leer is reptilian (his eyes are coals of aggression), but there’s something magnetic in his absolute, fearless conviction that the more he acts like a proudly insensitive blowhard, the more you’ll like him. It’s no wonder educated liberals can’t stand the guy: More than any pop-culture phenomenon in years, Andrew Dice Clay’s success represents the victory of the dumb kids over the smart kids.

Had the filmmakers clowned around with Clay’s surliness a bit more, treating it as a knowing satire of old-fashioned macho, they might have come up with a black-comedy winner. Instead, the film’s point of view is identical to Clay’s — you don’t get a break from his in-your-face attitude. The idea of teaming Clay with a needling teenybopper (Maddie Corman) is appealing; they’re like a punkier version of Paul LeMat and Mackenzie Phillips in American Graffiti. And Wayne Newton, as a thuggish record-industry magnate, does nicely sending up the dark side of Vegas sleaze.

Still, Ford Fairlane is a monotonous and overblown movie, a dithering hodgepodge of action, ”satire,” and vintage Clay one-liners about anatomical functions — many of which he follows up with an embarrassingly infantile giggle (it’s his version of Fonzie’s ”Ay!”), as if to say, ”Really scored a bull’s-eye that time!” Didn’t anyone teach Clay not to laugh at his own jokes? Director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2) gives the movie a luxurious smoke-and-neon look, but despite his big media send-off he has turned out to be a glossy hack — he directs sequences, not films. Ford Fairlane has been made with the sort of haphazard ”flash” that looks great in three-minute MTV clips. Over the long haul, it becomes as oppressively one-note as Clay himself. D+

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane
  • Movie
  • 104 minutes