Tommy Boy
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Tommy Boy

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Film comedies have taken on numerous formats of their long history. After all this is one of the oldest genres in movies and it was only natural for variation to enter into the mix throughout the decades. There is the lone looser such as Buster Keaton or Chaplin’s beloved character, the Little Tramp. Comedy can come in larger groups like Monty Python or the venerable Keystone Cops of the silent era. Somewhere in between is the best known of the comic formats; the two man comedy team. Most of the greats in the field have worked with partners that would act as straight men and foils for the humor. Names like Abbot and Costello or Bob Hope and Bing Crosby made audiences roll on the theater floors in laughter for generations. Typically they are a mismatched pair with one the slick more urban character who usually took on the persona of the loveable dolt. One of the more recent teams to hit comedy is another unlikely pair; David Spade and Chris Farley. After proving to be a successful team on Saturday Night Live they went on to a couple of films before the untimely death of Farley. It is a shame that there are so few examples of this team on film; they were comic geniuses who worked off each other in a rare and wonderful way. The first of their movies together was ‘Tommy Boy’ and it is great. This is the kind of movie that just makes you laugh and feel good. It is not that the film is particularly well made or that it holds up to any conventional standards in the art of cinema. This is not the kind of flick that you watch with a discerning eye for technique. Rather it is a movie that has become a fan favorite because it doesn’t play by the usual rules. It is a common film for the common man; the kinds dismissed by many critics all the while the fans are out watching it time and time again. The best way to watch this film is to just let go of your adult self and return your mind to a simpler day in school when someone like Farely was the class clown. We laughed at people like that because they were not afraid to make a fool of themselves to get a laugh. Their inhibitions and willingness to try anything to be funny carried them along. In other words just don’t take this flick seriously it won’t work. Sit back, grab some popcorn and gather some friends around and just enjoy.

The script was credited to the writing team of Bonnie and Terry Turner. Uncredited for his work on the screenplay is Fred Wolf who was a staff writer on Saturday Night Live and would go on to writer the next Farley Spade flick, Black Sheep and several other comedies with SNL alumni. The Turners also wrote for SNL and other SNL film projects including ‘The Coneheads’ as well as the TV comedy ‘Third Rock from the Sun’. These people know they way around silly comedy. More importantly they understand what it takes to write material for the type of comedian that SNL tends to produce. Most of them cannot hold a long and involved comedy. These are people trained in sketch comedy, most improvisation. This movie is written to meet those peculiar requirements and restrictions. The flick is a series of episodic bits loosely held together by a central plot. The story is flimsy at best, a looser of a young man trying to win the approval of his successful father. It is not as if the script is all that funny, admittedly it is not. What propel this film to being a memorable fan favorite is the antics of Farley and how well he plays off his straight man Spader. They pair were real life friends and knew each other well enough to anticipate the other perfectly. There is a timing here that ranks up there with the greats. The script may be one of the reasons the critics go so hard on this film but it is the performances that made it a fan hit.

The director here, Peter Segal, did not have much of a resume when he stepped in to do this flick. He had one of the later ‘Naked Gun’ movies and work on the lamentable ‘Tom Arnold’ TV show. He would go on to other films including ’50 First Dates’, and the ‘Get Smart’ re-imagining. Segal was still very much a novice at directing comedy at this point. The pacing is uneven as he moves from bit to bit. At times his style seems to work against the comic abilities of the stars. It takes a gentle touch to make most forms of comedy and Segal hadn’t perfected his style here. This is just another point that those more technically inclined will use to find fault with this movie. The thing is while watching Farley running around with his amble belly jiggling you just do not care much at all. This film won an MTV movie award which should give some indication of the critic audience dichotomy at work here. While it is not in the league of another SNL graduate’s comedy ‘Animal House’ it succeeds in bringing on the laughs and that is the only reason to watch this kind of movie.

Thomas R. "Tommy" Callahan III (Chris Farley) is not a man that anyone would mistake as a success. It took him seven years to graduate college and even with that prolonged time he squeaked by with a solid ‘D’ average. Still, his father Tom Callahan Jr. (Brian Dennehy), is proud of his son’s accomplishment. It is not as if dad had any major expectations to begin with and family is important to Big Tom. Even though he is completely incompetent and ill fitted for any line of work Big Tom makes his son an executive in his lucrative auto parts business. He also has another surprise for Tommy, he is about to get a new step mother. Big Tom met Beverly Barish-Burns (Bo Derek) at a weight loss clinic and resort. He fell in love immediately and proposed. She has a son, Paul (Rob Lowe) but things are not what they seem. Paul and Beverly is actually a pair of married con men who take men like Big Tom for everything they have. While this going on Tommy in on the road trying to overcome his social awkwardness and hyperactive personality. Along with him is Richard (David Spade) who is basically there to keep Tommy’s trouble to a minimum although usually to little effect. When Paul sabotages the company to see it off to a competitor for a quick profit Tommy has to come back and save the day.

This is something that is enjoyable to watch. In the final analysis this is what a puerile comedy is for; to laugh. Farley is ever bit the every guy that all the men in the audience can readily identify with. We have all known people who have covered up their lack of physical and mental prowess with comedy; more than a few in the audience have lived that life. We laugh at Farley because he had the rare gift of being able to laugh at his own overweight frame. The Blu-ray release if this flick is a keeper. The high definition audio and video just enhances the fun with a picture and sound that makes the movie seem as if it was a live performance. There is also enough extras provided here to keep the fun going. Let loose and have some fun watching this.

Posted 12/07/08

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