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Tommy Boy: Holy Schnike Edition

Fans of comedian Chris Farley, and moreso those of his inspired teaming with "Saturday Night Live" chum David Spade, have very few films to point to as evidence of their hero's peak talents. When Farley died in 1997 at age 33, he had only four starring roles to his credit, and only two opposite Spade. The first, 1995's Tommy Boy, is arguably (perhaps arbitrarily) the best of Farley's movies, but it's just as much an acute reminder of his often-disappointing failure to fulfill his potential as it is a showcase of his energetic and engaging style of buffoonery. Farley stars as Tommy Callahan, the spoiled, befuddled and distracted heir to an automotive parts empire. Having barely avoided flunking out of college after seven years, Tommy is gifted by his father, Tom Sr. (Brian Dennehy), with a prime position at the company's Sandusky, Ohio, headquarters — much to the resentment of more focused and capable employees like Tom Sr.'s straightlaced, snide assistant, Richard (David Spade). After Tom Sr. unexpectedly dies, Tommy and Richard must team up for a sales-juggernaut road trip to save the business from a takeover, which would surely result in massive layoffs.

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With very little originality or effort put into the story or characters, Tommy Boy is entirely dependent on Farley and Spade making the funny, and they oblige about 25% of the time; but where the most successful personality-driven comedies (Adam Sandler's Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore; Will Ferrell's Anchorman; even Tom Green's Freddy Got Fingered) employ their generic plot formulas as mere skeleton frames on which to drape layers of absurdity, anarchy, and rampant jackassery, Spade and Farley spend too much of Tommy Boy (and likewise in their next venture, Black Sheep) as servants to the ho-hum narrative. When Farley does break out into a manic, blustery monologue, the movie instantly snaps into focus, and the ensuing laughs are hearty, but far more frequent are lazy forays into less-inspired physical comedy and generic gags like a car that falls apart, some wackiness with a deer, and a character caught masturbating. Spade, who can be razor-sharp when doing his own material or in the hands of creative writers like those behind the sit-com "Just Shoot Me," is even more anonymous in Tommy Boy, flinging underachieving insults with superior delivery. Tommy Boy ails of formulaic hack screenwriting occasionally brightened by star personalities, rather than organic comedy springing from the potent chemistry of its headline team. Sandler, Ferrell, and even the abrasive Green, all transcended mediocrity by taking personal care to mold their breakthrough movies in their own distinct style by co-writing their scripts, ensuring an abundance of material, comic innovation and deviation, and a high degree of quality control, leaving fans overwhelmed by a bounty of often-surprising laughs. Tommy Boy is, by comparison, half-ass; maybe even one-eighth-ass. Farley chalked up more laughs in his brief but comedically generous cameo in Sandler's Billy Madison than he can muster in this dawdling effort. Still, he and Spade have a definite chemistry together, and the deeply empathetic Farley has a good presence, elevating the dull and, ultimately, schmaltzy, material where possible, but not enough. Rob Lowe's supporting turn as the villain is so ineptly directed that most of his scenes are embarrassingly incoherent. Also co-stars Julie Warner, Bo Derek, and the chronically inversatile Dan Akroyd. Directed by Peter Segal, whose poison touch had previously murdered the Naked Gun series with Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult.

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Paramount presents the two-disc Tommy Boy: Holy Schnike Edition with the feature in a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Segal chats along in a commentary track. Disc Two includes four featurettes, one covering the film as a whole, another the rickety writing process, one on the team of Farley and Spade, and the last a short remembrance of Farley's childhood by his two brothers. There are also 27 bits of extra footage, including deleted scenes, extended scenes, and alternate takes, a few of which may have improved the movie, if only slightly. Also on hand are storyboard comparisons, a gag reel, a stills gallery, TV spots, and a theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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