Judge Patrick Naugle says this sure ain't Beverly Hills Ninja.
Burly mountaineer Bartholomew Hunt (the late Chris Farley, Tommy Boy) and fey Leslie Edwards (Matthew Perry, TV's Friends) are 19th century trailblazers on a mission of the utmost importance: beat soon-to-be legendary frontier explorers Lewis and Clark as they discover the rugged trails and vast valleys of America. Unfortunately, Hunt and Edwards don't have the experience, knowledge, insight, or intelligence to even cook up two eggs in a frying pan, much less discover the New World. With a gang of rag-tag members in their group—including a cranky Frenchman (Eugene Levy) whose attractive Indian wife causes trouble for everyone—Hunt and Edwards push forward on their quest to become men of history If only they knew where they were!
As comedies go, Almost Heroes is a real disappointment. It's even more disparaging after you realize this film was Chris Farley's final starring film role—like John Candy (whose last movie before he left us was the abysmal Wagon's East!, eerily also about pioneering), poor Chris just couldn't go out on a high note. I'm not exactly sure what drew the talent to this production. I can only surmise that some mega-honcho studio executive thought Matthew Perry and Chris Farley were the next David Spade and Chris Farley.
Oh, how woefully wrong they were…
Realizing that Christopher Guest directed Almost Heroes is like discovering Steven Spielberg was the brains behind Boat Trip. Guest is one of the most talented comedy directors working in Hollywood today. (If you don't believe me, rent the eons funnier Waiting for Guffman or Best In Show.) So how did Almost Heroes end up being not only unfunny, but also completely D.O.A.?
For starters, Matthew Perry and Chris Farley just don't have the needed on-screen chemistry for a film like this. Perry comes off too much like his Friends character (except not even minutely likable), and a little of Farley's shenanigans go a long way—and Farley NEVER does anything little. The film is packed with sex gags, masturbation jokes, obvious slapstick, one-liners as flat as a pancake and many, many shots of Chris Farley falling down trees, hills, rivers, etcetera. None of this is even remotely funny, though if it makes anyone feel any better there were a few spots where I really, really wanted to laugh, but just couldn't waste my chortles on this crap.
The supporting cast is composed of many Guest regulars, including the always entertaining Levy (the bright spot in this film) and Lewis Arquette (father of the Arquette acting clan) as a goofy merchant. But who cares when they're given so little to do? Levy's Guy Fontenot spends most of his time telling various characters he'll kill 'em if they so much as look at his Indian wife (or as he calls her, "his property"). Kevin Dunn (Godzilla) is the main villain, all curly haired wig and wild moustache. Sadly, the filmmakers decided to ignore a cardinal rule of comedy: just because a character has goofy facial hair or a weird looking haircut doesn't make it funny.
I was one of only about thirty-five people who saw Almost Heroes theatrically in 1997. I remember being sad that Chris Farley was not with us anymore, but not sad enough to find any of Almost Heroes entertaining. I'm disappointed to inform you that my initial reaction was correct: the film has not aged well. Two mismatched performances, a creaky screenplay and redundant slapstick make for lousy film-going experience. Stick with Tommy Boy if you're in the mood for a heavy dose of Farley chuckles.
Almost Heroes is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. If you're forced to sit through this film, at least you'll be happy to know that the transfer looks very good. There are a few spots where grain pops up, though they are few and far between—overall this is a bright picture slightly accentuated by Adam Kimmel and Kenneth MacMillan's decent outdoor cinematography. The image isn't of top-notch quality, though it's much better than this film deserves.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English and French. The audio mix is good: a few directional effects and surround sounds pop up from time to time, as well as Jeffery CJ Vanston's music score. Otherwise, this is a front heavy comedy and little else. Also included on this disc are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
The only extra feature available on this very bare bones DVD is a single widescreen theatrical trailer for Almost Heroes.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Theatrical Trailer
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