Dirty Work (1998 film)

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Dirty Work
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBob Saget
Written byFrank Sebastiano
Norm Macdonald
Fred Wolf
Based onVengeance is Mine Inc.
by Roald Dahl
Produced byRobert Simonds
Narrated byNorm Macdonald
CinematographyArthur Albert
Edited byGeorge Folsey Jr.
Music byRichard Gibbs
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • June 12, 1998 (1998-06-12)
Running time
82 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$13 million
Box office$10 million

Dirty Work is a 1998 American comedy film starring Norm Macdonald, Artie Lange, Jack Warden, and Traylor Howard and directed by Bob Saget. Based on the short story Vengeance is Mine Inc. by Roald Dahl, the film follows long-time friends Mitch (Macdonald) and Sam (Lange) who start a revenge-for-hire business, and work to fund heart surgery for Sam's father Pops (Warden). When they take on work for an unscrupulous businessman (Christopher McDonald), in order to be paid, they create a revenge scheme of their own. Notable cameo appearances include Don Rickles, Rebecca Romijn, John Goodman, Gary Coleman, David Koechner, Chris Farley (in his final film appearance), and Adam Sandler as Satan.

The film was the first starring vehicle for Macdonald and Lange and the first feature film directed by Saget, coming one year after he left his long-running role as host of America's Funniest Home Videos.[1]

Though the film received largely negative critical reviews upon its 1998 release and was a financial disappointment, it has since become a cult classic and has been reappraised more positively by some critics. Co-star Artie Lange later became a regular on The Howard Stern Show, where the film was sometimes discussed.


Growing up, friends Mitch Weaver (Norm Macdonald) and Sam McKenna (Artie Lange) are taught by Sam's hard-nosed dad, "Pops" McKenna (Jack Warden), not to "take crap from anyone". To that end, the pair plant a bunch of guns in a schoolyard bully's desk and have him arrested for gun possession; next, they catch a kid-fondling crossing guard in the act, after having applied Krazy Glue to the bottom of Mitch's pants.

As adults, after losing fourteen jobs in three months and being dumped by his girlfriend, Mitch moves in with Sam and Pops, who then has a heart attack. In the hospital, Pops confides that, because of their parents' swinging lifestyle, he is also Mitch's father. Even though Pops' heart is failing, Dr. Farthing (Chevy Chase), a hopeless gambler, will raise Mr. McKenna's position on the transplant waiting list if he is paid $50,000, to save himself from his bookie. Mitch and Sam get jobs in a cinema with an abusive manager (Don Rickles) and exact their revenge by showing Men In Black (Who Like To Have Sex With Each Other) to a packed house and get their manager fired. The other workers congratulate them and suggest they go into business.

Mitch and Sam open "Dirty Work", a revenge-for-hire business (the Dirty Work phone number is "555-0187", a fictitious number used later on Saturday Night Live.[2]). Mitch falls for a woman named Kathy (Traylor Howard) who works for a shady used car dealer (David Koechner). After publicly embarrassing the dealer during a live TV commercial (Mitch: "Here’s another dead hooker in this trunk!"), the duo exacts increasingly lucrative reprisals for satisfied customers until they interfere with unscrupulous local property developer Travis Cole (Christopher McDonald). Cole tricks them into destroying "his" apartment building (actually owned by Mr. John Kirkpatrick, the landlord), promising to pay them enough to save Pops. Afterwards, Cole reneges, revealing that he is not the owner and that he had them vandalize the building so that he could buy it cheaply, evict the tenants (including Kathy's grandmother), and build a parking lot for his beloved opera house. Unknown to Cole, Mitch's "note to self"[3] mini-tape recorder captures this confession.

Mitch and Sam plot their revenge on Cole, using the tape to set up an elaborate trap. Using skunks, a loyal army of prostitutes, homeless men, a noseless friend (Chris Farley), brownies with hallucinogenic additives, and Pops, they ruin the opening night of Don Giovanni, an opera sponsored prominently by Cole. With the media present, Mitch plays back Cole's confession over the theater's sound system. Cole sees that his public image is being tarnished and agrees to pay the $50,000. In the end, Cole is punched in the stomach, arrested and jailed, his dog is raped by a skunk, Pops gets his operation, and Mitch gets the girl. Dr. Farthing overcomes his gambling habit, but gets beaten to death by the bookies anyway.


Cameo appearances

Production and release

Filmed at Wycliffe College and elsewhere around Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the film was produced for an estimated $13 million.[4]

In his first appearance on The Howard Stern Show on September 18, 2008,[5] Chevy Chase discussed the film's production and release with Artie Lange.[6] According to Chase, he was impressed by the original script's raunchy, R-rated, "over the top" tone (particularly a filmed but ultimately cut gag involving Macdonald and Lange delivering donuts that had been photographed around their genitals)[6] and, Lange related, went so far as to beg Macdonald not to allow any changes—to "keep it funny". Lange said the studio insisted on a PG-13 rating and moved the film's release from the February dump months to June, where it fared poorly against blockbusters like Godzilla.[7]

During production, Norm Macdonald was embroiled in a feud with Don Ohlmeyer, then an executive with NBC. Ohlmeyer, a friend of O. J. Simpson, took offense at Macdonald's frequent and pointed jokes against Simpson on Weekend Update and had Macdonald fired from the position. Ohlmeyer went further and refused to sell advertising space or air commercials for Dirty Work.[8] NBC eventually relented (Ohlmeyer was forced into retirement not long afterward) a week after the film premiered.[9]

Dirty Work was Chris Farley's last-released film appearance, filmed before his fatal drug overdose in December 1997.

Norm McDonald offered Howard Stern the role of Satan but he declined. Adam Sandler was eventually cast instead.[10]

MGM released the film on DVD, in August 1999, and for digital rental/purchase.[11]


Critics mostly gave negative reviews. It was referred to as a "leaden, taste-deprived attempted comedy" and "a desert of comedy" with only infrequent humor in The New York Times.[12] The Los Angeles Times described it as "a tone-deaf, scattershot and dispiritingly cheesy affair with more groans than laughs", and though Macdonald "does uncork a few solid one-liners", his lack of conviction in his acting "is amusing in and of itself, but it doesn't help the movie much".[13] The San Francisco Chronicle recommended the film only for "people who like stupid lowdown vulgar comedy. I had a few good laughs."[14]

It has a 14% critic rating at Rotten Tomatoes, averaged from 28 reviews.[15] The film has been described as a "cult classic".[16][17] In his column, My Year Of Flops, critic Nathan Rabin describes Dirty Work as an example of "the ironic dumb comedy, the slyly postmodern lowbrow gag-fest that so lustily, nakedly embraces and exposes the machinations and conventions of stupid laffers that it becomes a sort of sublime bit of meta-comedy".[18]


When asked about a sequel in 2018, Macdonald stated "It was an R-rated movie, so we made it that way, then they made it [PG-13], so half the movie had to be cut. So it's hard for me to see it objectively. There might be another one coming now, I guess." Macdonald did not elaborate further regarding the potential sequel.[19] Bob Saget spoke about the sequel in May of 2021 in an interview with Kevin Hart on his podcast, "Comedy Gold Minds".[20] Kevin praised the film's moments and innovations, to which Bob replied, "you want to be in the sequel, we're making it?". Kevin said he'd do a cameo without hesitation, declaring 'Dirty Work' be one of his favorite movies of all time. Macdonald died four months later in September 2021, essentially ending talks of a sequel;[21] followed soon after by director Bob Saget’s death in 2022.[22]


  1. ^ Snierson, Dan (September 16, 2008). "Bob Saget returns to 'America's Funniest Home Videos' for 20th anniversary celebration". Entertainment Weekly.
  2. ^ "Transcript of Erectile Dysfunction Ad SNL 25:12". snltranscripts.jt.org. February 12, 2000. Retrieved 2007-02-02.
  3. ^ O'Sullivan, Michael (January 1, 1999). "The Best and Worst Films of 1998". The Washington Post. (Macdonald used "Note to Self" reminders into a real or imagined pocket tape recorder on SNL Weekend Update.)
  4. ^ "Box Office Data - Dirty Work". the-numbers.com. Retrieved 2007-02-02.
  5. ^ "The Best of the Week September 14–18 - Thursday: Chevy Chase in Studio". howardstern.com. September 18, 2008. Archived from the original on September 30, 2011.
  6. ^ a b Mercer, Mark (September 18, 2008). "Chevy Chase Visits. 09/18/08. 7:55am". marksfriggin.com.
  7. ^ Stern, Howard; Chase, Chevy; Lange, Artie (September 18, 2008). Howard Stern Radio Show (broadcast). Event occurs at 7:55-8:50.
  8. ^ Sandomir, Richard (September 10, 2017). "Don Ohlmeyer, 'Monday Night Football' Producer, Dies at 72". The New York Times.
  9. ^ Frankel, Daniel (June 9, 1998). "Norm Macdonald Wins "Dirty" War". E! Online.
  10. ^ "The Lost Roles of Howard Stern". 9 February 2012.
  11. ^ "MGM's Official Site for Dirty Work". Metro-Goldwyn Mayer Studios Inc. August 24, 1999.
  12. ^ van Gelder, Lawrence (June 13, 1998). "Dirty Work (1998) - Film Review; Lurching Into Comedy With a Heart Attack". The New York Times.
  13. ^ Kronke, David (June 15, 1998). "Movie Review - Dirty Work - Macdonald's 'Dirty Work' Needs a Laugh Transplant". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2008-10-06.
  14. ^ Graham, Bob (June 13, 1998). "It's a 'Dirty' Little Shame About Norm Macdonald". San Francisco Chronicle.
  15. ^ Dirty Work. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2011-08-07.
  16. ^ Cohen, Ian (July 1, 2011). "Norm Macdonald - Me Doing Standup (review)". Pitchfork.
  17. ^ Rabin, Nathan (December 2, 2010). "Bob Saget (interview)". The A.V. Club. Onion Inc.
  18. ^ Rabin, Nathan (March 18, 2009). "My Year Of Flops Norm MacDonald's Film Career Died For Your Sins Case File #133: Dirty Work". AV Club. Retrieved 2012-03-05.
  19. ^ King, Scott. "Norm Macdonald On New Show, Burt Reynolds, Dirty Work 2? And Louis C.K." Forbes. Retrieved 2018-09-26.
  20. ^ https://open.spotify.com/episode/7tzmrHpZIzzyxFEC7zBWBg?si=-K7_2aOcQLWeMbTLk4-aMg
  21. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (14 September 2021). "Norm Macdonald, 'Saturday Night Live' Comedian, Dies at 61". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 September 2021.
  22. ^ "Bob Saget, beloved TV dad of 'Full House,' dead at 65". AP NEWS. 2022-01-10. Retrieved 2022-01-10.

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