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Image Entertainment presents

Dirt Merchant (1999)

"Interview after interview I got turned down like a leper at a swingers party."- Dirt Merchant (Danny Masterson)

Stars: Danny Masterson, David Faustino, David DeLuise
Other Stars: Julie Benz, Brion James, Jenna Jameson, Tim Thomerson, Anthony Michael Hall, Carlos Alazraqui
Director: B.J. Nelson

Manufacturer: Ritek
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, language)
Run Time: 01h:24m:33s
Release Date: 2002-06-11
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ B-D+C+ C+


DVD Review

Have you ever built up a preconceived dread about a film, but then find yourself not hating it so much once you start watching it? Maybe that only happens to reviewers, because after all, who else in their right mind would watch a movie that didn't look appealing. It's kind of like worrying about going to the dentist because of a toothache, only to find out at the last minute the source of your pain isn't an impacted tooth, but just an errant popcorn kernel wedged in your gumline. I mean, you still have to go and have a stranger dig around in your mouth, but the good news is that there isn't any painful drilling and bleeding. B.J. Nelson's 1999 rock and roll/detective/murder mystery/comedy, Dirt Merchant, is one of those experiences from which I nervously expected a lame, moronic comedy. What I discovered was that while a lot of the humor was outright dumb, there was something oddly enjoyable about the whole thing.

In the first ten minutes, Kurt "Dirt" Merchant (That 70s Show's Danny Masterson) loses his mailroom job at Atomic Frog Records, after bruising the ego of coked-up record executive Ronnie Orlando (Carlos Alazraqui). Dirt also loses his sweet girlfriend Angie (Julie Benz—sexy vampire Darla from Buffy The Vampire Slayer/Angel), who dumps him for greener, more successful pastures. For a little comedic color, Dirt also shares a house with three carefree roomies, including stoner Sponge (Married With Children's David Faustino), ladies' man Sly (David DeLuise—son of Dom) and nerdy Zeke (David Gadblatto).

After a number of job interviews go nowhere, Dirt discovers his true calling in life when he lands a gig as a process server—for which he sports a dandy film-noir detective outfit—for boozed-up private dick Jake (Tim Thomerson). When Dirt is framed for the murder of a famous rock star, he has to rely on his detecting skills to clear his own good name, with the aid of his bumbling roommates. Along the way, porn star Jenna Jameson (as the coyly named Holly Go Tightly), flaunts her unnaturally enhanced body (yes, she does a few nude scenes), and no longer geeky Anthony Michael Hall—now a weirdly buffed giant—shows up as a chainsaw-wielding loner. Brion James (Blade Runner) has a small role as hard-ass Detective Harry Ball.

I have never seen an episode of That 70s Show, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well Masterson held this film together in the lead role. He has an easy, likeable delivery, one that's full of natural sarcasm. When surrounded by a sea of mostly one-dimensional caricatures, Masterson's Dirt stands out as the most real. What shocked me even more was his uncanny resemblance to Malcolm In The Middle's (a show I do watch) Francis, who is played by Chris Masterson. Yep, they're brothers. Who knew? Apparently not me, that's who. Regardless, I spent most the of the film thinking, "Damn, that guy looks and sounds just like Francis."

Nelson, who has also penned a couple of the Scanners sequels, has written a moderately entertaining script that does in fact generate a few laughs, as well as a fair share of groans. The story is harmlessly offbeat, but it doesn't shoot itself in the foot trying to be overly quirky. Some of the sequences play out like poorly conceived skits (like Dirt's break-dancing deliveryman disguise), while others are genuinely funny (Dirt and his pals stakeout the suspected home of the 405 Mangler serial killer).

At its creative roots, Dirt Merchant is really just a thin parody of any B-movie film-noir gumshoe flick, only here set in the world of rock and roll. I laughed a few times, and more importantly, was not bored. This is the kind of low-brow comedy where you don't want to admit you even thought it was marginally OK, but I'll be man enough to 'fess up to that.

Oh yeah, Jenna Jameson takes her clothes off, too.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Easily one of the worst transfers I've ever seen (at least on a three-year-old film), and I've seen some baddies. Presented in 1.85:1 nonanamorphic widescreen, the print is alternately dull then grainy, and then some combination of the two. Colors are up and down the chart, tending to settle somewhere in between pale and washed out. There were moments when I thought I was watching a rough work print, rather than a finished feature.

Image has not gone out of their way to dress up this transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: D+

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: As if to add insult to injury, Dirt Merchant sports a lifeless mono track as its sole option. Cleaner than most, it does feature some crackle during louder dialogue passages. This is not the worst mono track I've ever heard, but it is certainly not the best. Dialogue is presentable, though a tad flat. It seems odd that this film didn't merit at least a stereo mix, considering it is set in the music world.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+ 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 10 cues and remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The only supplements, outside of ten measly chapter stops, are a pair of promotional trailers (essentially a music video), both set to the annoyingly catchy Dirt Merchant theme song. It's of interest to note that even though this film had a very short runtime, both trailers feature a number of scenes not in the final product. One of the trailers features nudity (again, some of which didn't appear in the final print), while the other has the naughty bits neatly excised.

Extras Grade: C+

Final Comments

Any movie where top-heavy porn star Jenna Jameson gets to sing a rock song automatically merits at least a peek from the curious. Some of the humor actually works pretty well within the framework of the one-dimensional story, and veteran B-movie faces like Tim Thomerson and Brion James add to the weirdness.

This is the kind of film where imbibing in copious amounts of alcohol can only help in the enjoyment.

Rich Rosell 2002-06-10