Dicks: The Musical premieres in theaters September 29. This review is based on a screening at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.
What to do with a movie like Dicks: The Musical? On the one hand, this appropriately ridiculous (or ridickulous, if you will) romp pushes its chaotic humor further than many would even dare. On the other, it’s a surprisingly narrow experience that runs out of steam rather quickly. Sure, these two hands come together to do a great many things despite often feeling out of sync: There are delightfully weird puppets, self-aware jokes galore, and whole heapings of snark. The trouble is that even the most outwardly bonkers of premises can start to ring hollow if pounded over and over again from the same angles.
In this case, the ones doing the pounding are the duo of Aaron Jackson and Josh Sharp. Not only are they the writers, but they’re the leads of the whole absurd affair. Adapted from Jackson and Sharp’s off-Broadway show Fucking Identical Twins – a title whose search engine results are a gag of their own (one the film regrettably didn’t keep) – Dicks sees the duo taking the same broad storytelling strokes. Partially a riff on The Parent Trap, it places us in the shoes of the totally heterosexual businessmen Craig Title (Sharp) and Trevor Brock (Jackson) who are living in modern-day New York City. They’re the best of the best at their silly job selling just the parts of vacuums for their “lady boss,” played by a memorable if underutilized Megan Thee Stallion. But Craig and Trevor have begun to fear that their lives are empty. When they discover that they’re actually identical twins, they decide they’ll have to reunite their parents so that they can all be one happy family again.
Enter Nathan Lane as Harris and Megan Mullally as Evelyn, who have each essentially locked themselves away in their respective apartments. The former isn’t entirely alone as he has the so-called Sewer Boys, nightmarish creatures he feeds from his own mouth – though they’re hardly good company. When the sons impersonate each other, donning atrocious wigs that the characters themselves repeatedly call attention to, shenanigans ensue. Through all of it, the story matters both less and more than it should. Feeling at times like it’s trying to be more in line with Tom Green’s misunderstood flop Freddy Got Fingered, the first musical from A24 stays true to its title by simply dicking around. Much of this is playfully done, and everyone involved seemed to have an absolute ball. But that doesn’t mean the experience of watching it is. Not even Bowen Yang as the Almighty can salvage Dicks in its entirety.
Though Dicks was directed by Larry Charles – best known for the original Borat – Sharp and Jackson are its driving creative force. They drum up some gloriously goofy material, like a dinner scene that goes off the rails and sends the audience spinning around the room. But the rest is often dragged down by repetitiveness that requires characters to remind us of the jokes, forever ensuring they don’t land with the intended impact. The Sewer Boys provide a glimpse of a more comprehensively chaotic Dicks, but it’s as if we can see the strings manipulating everything else onscreen. There’s plenty of crass humor, but it’s is consistently lacking in creativity. The vulgarity is largely without verve. While it may elicit a chuckle, Dicks can’t sustain the energy necessary to get through the moments when it can’t get a laugh. Everything eventually slips through its fingers, leaving the characters sitting in the same smattering of locations, going through the motions.
As its situations and settings become familiar, the madcap moments of mayhem start to feel trapped in the many split-screen boxes Dicks has drawn for itself. It finds more earned fun when it strips all this away, but it still remains oddly tied down. There is a bolder, more absurdist beating heart to be found in Dicks; that we only get to see it as the film is winding down is a disappointment. (Beau is Afraid is in no danger of losing the title of 2023’s funniest and most revealing A24 release co-starring Nathan Lane.) Dicks eventually leans into transgression, spitting with aplomb in the face of any rules audiences want to impose on it. Had this spirit been felt throughout, it could have been something great. In execution, it commits its greatest sin: being forgettable.