Director: Peter Segal
Stars: Chris Farley, David Spade, Bo Derek, Dan Aykroyd
Release Company: Paramount
MPAA Rating: PG-13
When a friend declared that “Tommy Boy was the greatest film ever made,” I was incredulous. How could anyone make such a claim! I mean, this film was universally panned by every reputable critic I can think of when it was released and it didn’t last very long in the theaters.
Granted, I am a film snob and am inclined to rate films like Citizen Kane, Fellini’s 8 ½, and Casablanca at the top and am inclined to check out the art house and foreign film fare available at the area theaters. So, I have a natural prejudice against recent productions involving Saturday Night Live comedians.
I also doubted that it could even stand up to be among the best comedies of all time. How could it possibly compare with the works of Charlie Chaplin, the Marx brothers, Mel Brooks, or Monty Python?
When I began to dispute my friend’s claim, I realized that I couldn’t pan Tommy Boy unless I’d actually seen it. Besides, I had heard some business associates claim that the movie had some valuable lessons along with the laughs. I finally gave in and rented the video last night. After all, even Shakespeare took a break. There’s a time for Hamlet, and there’s a time for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Tommy Boy even follows some Shakespearean comedy conventions —the mistaken identity motif with the happy resolution at the end, but the Bard never wrote the script for Tommy Boy. (Poor Will is probably horrified that he is mentioned in the same paragraph as this film) Instead, Bonnie and Terry Turner (who also wrote The Brady Bunch Movie and Wayne’s World) and Fred Wolf (longtime head writer for Saturday Night Live!) collaborated on the script, which feels like a collage of ideas thrown together by a committee on a tight deadline. Characters are little more than stereotypes and the plot often degenerates into short skits with bumpy transitions. I don’t want to appear entirely negative, however, as the movie has some good moments.
Chris Farley stars as Tommy, a lovable loser who has taken a little less than a decade to get through college with a D+. It’s no big deal because his father, Big Tom (Brian Dennehy) is a successful auto parts manufacturer in Sandusky, Ohio and is proud of his son. After all, Tommy is destined to take over the family business.
Tommy comes home and gets his own office in the plant and Richard (David Spade) is assigned to show Tommy the ropes. Richard, the nerd that nobody ever liked in school, is resentful of Tommy’s quick, unqualified promotion, but goes along because he admires Big Tom – the man who “could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves.”
Widower Big Tom marries a perfect “10” fitness instructor (Bo Derek), who provides Tommy with the brother (Rob Lowe) that he never had. Unfortunately, Big Tom dies suddenly, the family company is put in jeopardy, and the only hope to save the company falls on Tommy Boy as he hits the road with Richard. The cliché-ridden plot continues on predictably to the inevitable conclusion.
The acting … well, this is another in the recent collection of Saturday Night Live fodder that clearly demonstrates that the recent cast has not translated well to the big screen medium like John Belushi, Chevy Chase, or Bill Murray have. But this may not be the actor’s fault. There’s just not much material to work with—Rob Lowe has the most interesting part, but he’s not on screen very much. The acting talents of Brian Dennehy and Dan Aykroyd are wasted in stereotypical roles. And what can I say about Bo Derek, who again looks great but her “acting” is only slightly better than it was in Tarzan since her scenes are fully clothed this time and don’t require that she eat a banana.
Of course the film wasn’t designed as an acting vehicle, but then I’d expect more planning and actual comedy. Many of the sketches fell flat with me. For example, what is so funny about Farley and Spade signing songs together as they’re on the road? Am I supposed to laugh because tears are streaming from Spade’s face as they are singing along with the Carpenters? Haven’t I seen other movies with cars that have body parts fall off?
Were that all there is to the film I wouldn’t even bother to write up a review, but there are a few moments that make Tommy Boy tolerable and occasional vignettes that are memorable. One redeeming quality to the film is a simple truism that anyone can change. A person with a big enough reason, who develops self-confidence, can overcome any obstacles that stand in the way. I have to guess that the resurrection of Bambi is designed to underscore this theme and serve as a turning point—Farley’s acting doesn’t convey the message. He just plods through to the next scene without making connections.
If I were editing Tommy Boy, I’d re-do it as a 10-15 minute motivational tape as a seminar for business and sales people. A few scenes I would include in the montage:
Clips that demonstrate Big Tom’s success, including his line about the T-bone steak.
Tommy as an incompetent in the office.
Tommy’s decision to go on the road and save the company.
Richard’s pep talk about “Never taking no for an answer, the rejections with Tommy’s reactions – “Okie, dokie!”
Blowing the sale with the overzealousness.
The chicken wing scene with the waitress.
The first sale.
Sometimes less is more. While individual scenes are funny – I did get a few laughs out of the 97-minute experience and could term it a “guilty pleasure” – the overall experience is less than filling for a movie aficionado. Go ahead and rent the movie if you’re up for some essentially mindless fare that has good intentions. If you enjoy Chris Farley, you’ll probably love the movie too. It’s harmless, and anyone involved with sales or business can take some valuable lessons from it.
But if you’re in the mood for some great comedy, check out virtually any movie that contains the original Saturday Night Live cast instead. Better yet, rent one of the classic Chaplin, Marx Brothers, Mel Brooks, or Monty Python videos. They contain a lot more quality laughs.