Director: Penelope Spheeris
Stars: Chris Farley, David Spade
Reviewer: Stephen Gower
I was 12 when Black Sheep first graced theatres in 1996, and at the time I was more interested in movies like Star Trek: First Contact. Side note: I think I only saw Mars Attacks! in theatres; also, 1996 has a lot of classic films in there! In fact, I probably only had a vague knowledge that Black Sheep even existed – I definitely don’t remember any particular trailers on TV.
So why did I watch it now, in 2012? My friend gave me a copy – for some reason, he had two – a few years back, and I had just never watched it before. For anyone unfamiliar with the basic plot, don’t worry about it. It’s a David Spade/Chris Farley film, so the plot isn’t really that important anyway. Farley plays Mike Donnelly, the inept brother of a candidate in the gubernatorial race for Washington State, Al Donnelly. Spade plays Steve Dodds, a member of Donnelly’s campaign who is assigned to keep Farley out of the way in exchange for a spot on Donelley’s staff after the election. Of course, trouble follows Farley wherever he goes, and hijinks ensue.
On the surface, this is simply a “David Spade plays sarcastic jerk to Chris Farley’s clumsy oaf” story – which makes me thankful that this is actually the only one of which I’ve seen in its entirety. The schtick is somewhat tiresome, but there is actually a good story hiding underneath. Farley’s character is shown from the beginning of the movie to be incompetent – the first sequence has him driving a campaign truck into a movie theatre marquee just to escape from a pack of dogs.
But he is just as quickly established as a man with his heart in the right place. He cares about the kids that attend the rec centre where he works. This side of the story doesn’t really go anywhere, and is mainly there to give the character some much-needed sympathy, but it works well enough. Not only does it give us a reason to cheer for Farley, but it gives support to why his brother Al (played by Tim Matheson) is supportive of him: Al sees what his brother is capable of, while everybody else wants to shove him aside.
An interesting facet of this movie is how it makes use of Chekhov’s Gun. Nearly everything introduced in this movie has a corresponding use later on – either immediately after, or later on. For instance, there’s the introduction of Farley’s police friend Robbie, who helps him later on in the movie; the non-sequitur introduction of Gary Busey’s character (more on him in a bit); the nitro-booster in Robbie’s patrol car; and something as silly as Farley’s tie getting stuck in the trunk of a car, which proceeds to drag him away.
Unfortunately, because these elements worked so well for me, I was distracted by the shotgun sitting in Robbie’s patrol car as Farley and Spade race to the Governor’s mansion in the last act of the movie. I was expecting the gun to come into play – probably a disaster of some sort – but was disappointed when nothing happened with it at all.
I think the brightest part of this movie though was the performance of Gary Busey. He plays a disturbed Vietnam veteran who ends up being a big help to Farley and Spade. I think I laughed the most during Busey’s scenes, which were unfortunately far too short. By the way, has anyone ever noticed how white his teeth are?
Going into this film, I was fully expecting to be bored and not entertained at all, ready to remove this DVD from my collection to create some space. In the end, I was actually quite satisfied with the screwball comedy, and will be keeping it. It’s only 86 minutes long, and is one of those comedies that you can put in on a rainy day. I give it an arbitrary 3-and-a-half out of five stars. For a script finished 15 minutes before the deadline, that’s pretty darn good.
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