Paramount // 1996 // 86 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // May 13th, 2009
There's one in every family.
Chris Farley was blowing up, just about the time the kids my age discovered comedy that didn't come from Disney. While other adolescents were devouring every new SNL spin-off, I was looking backward to The Blues Brothers. Although I enjoyed Wayne's World, I never got into Coneheads, A Night at the Roxbury, or this Chris Farley/David Spade vehicle.
Black Sheep is the story of Mike Donnelly (Chris Farley, Tommy Boy), an overweight, unintelligent citizen of a small town in Washington. He wouldn't be special except his brother, Al (Tim Matheson, Animal House) is running for governor. Mike wants to do what he can to help get his brother elected, but Mike's a bit of a screw-up and everything he tries goes wrong. Once the incumbent governor realizes his rival's little brother is the weak point of the campaign, Al decides to give Mike a babysitter in the form of his advisor Steve Dobbs (David Spade, Tommy Boy), who must keep Mike from getting into trouble.
I'll admit I never understood what made Chris Farley funny. Most of the characters I saw him play were dim-witted fat guys, and I fail to the appeal. I know he was often compared to John Belushi, who did the crass fat-guy routine, but just when that got boring, Belushi would jump out with something truly insane and inspired. I never saw either from Farley (although to be fair I'm not familiar with his SNL tenure).
Black Sheep is really more of the same. Chris Farley runs around getting into ridiculous situation after ridiculous situation, flailing like a moron. This doesn't work for two reasons: 1) all of the situations are unfunny-credibility-straining situations, not so-crazy-they're-funny Marx Brothers style situations; and 2) this is some of the most uninspired physical comedy I have ever seen. A scene where Chris Farley and David Spade wrestle a bat in a cabin takes up several minutes in the first act, and it's one of the most tedious moments I've ever seen. The idea could be good, and with a talented physical comedian (I'm reminded of Bruce Campbell in Bubba Ho-Tep) it could have worked. Instead we get cut after cut of David Spade beating Farley with a broom, or Farley hitting his head against something. There's no energy, no mania, and no interest. The whole film plays like that. I was also surprised how tame David Spade was. He's seriously hampered by a PG-13 leash, so his character tips way too far into cuddly rather than his trademark blistering satire.
It's not all bad. Chris Farley has undeniable enthusiasm, even if it's wasted on this listless, paint-by-numbers plot. I also enjoyed Gary Busey as the insane mountain-man. Something this Blu-ray disc brought out was the beautiful lighting of the film. There are lots of warm, golden tones, and director Penelope Spheeris paid quite a bit more attention to cinematography than the average comedy director.
As for this Blu-ray itself, the audio and video are exactly what fans are going to want. The transfer highlights those warm tones and detail was surprisingly high. Grain and print damage were both remarkably absent. If I didn't know Farley was deceased, I'd think this film was made in the last few years. The audio doesn't have much to do, but it keeps the dialogue audible. This is also my first completely extra-less Blu-ray release. There's not even a menu option for special features that hides a crappy text bio or unrelated trailer. It's entirely bare bones.
Guilty. Black Sheep should be sheared.
Review content copyright © 2009 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.0 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13