Black Sheep (1996)

"Unbearable"

Black Sheep (1996) Review


Chris Farley's tragic, untimely death at age 33 sparked a newfound admiration of his talents, but loving eyes can't appreciate (or overlook) something as painfully unfunny as Black Sheep, the second and final pairing of Farley and David Spade.

The movie is a lazier, stupider version of Tommy Boy. Al Donnelly (Tim Matheson) is running for governor in Washington state, but his chances are hurt by his well-intentioned but reckless younger brother Mike (Farley), who is a newspaper editor's wet dream. Enter Steve Dodds (Spade), an eager Donnelly volunteer who offers to supervise Mike until the election ends. The pairing is disastrous from the start, and things really get out of hand when Mike gets framed for arson. The two escape to a remote cabin, where they encounter redneck kids, a runaway boulder, and Gary Busey, before uncovering an election scandal.

Where to begin with the movie's problems? For some baffling reason, the movie hinges on physical comedy (i.e., Spade getting sprayed in the face with a fire extinguisher and the duo dealing with a bat in the cabin) and not on Spade and Farley's byplay, which was what made Tommy Boy so such better than the usual SNL-inspired fare. There are stretches in Black Sheep when Spade and Farley are separated -- a criticism Spade later leveled at director Penelope Spheeris -- which is unforgivable. But even when they're together, they act dazed and uninvolved, as if they're wondering how they got roped into this mess.

The script never finds its footing. Jokes come out of nowhere, ending in puzzled silence. Early on, Spade's character bumps into an old lady, and what transpires is one of the most ill-conceived and unfunny bits ever recorded for widespread viewing. The number of plot holes is staggering. Why is there nitrous oxide in the trunk of a police car? What's the deal with the young kid Mike is mentoring? Is anyone else bothered that Matheson should be playing Farley's dad, not his brother?

Most importantly, how could Black Sheep be this awful?

The terrific oral biography, The Chris Farley Show, does answer that question. According to the book, Paramount had to commit Farley to a project before their deal with him expired, so writer Fred Wolf cranked out 45 pages of the script over a weekend. Lorne Michaels called the movie "an act of desperation by Paramount." Spheeris said she took the gig partially because of the whopping director's fee. By his count, Wolf was fired (each time by Spheeris) and re-hired three times. "They just kept adding and changing crap all the time, and never to make it better," Matheson told authors Tom Farley Jr. and Tanner Colby. "It just got dumber." On set, Spade and Farley's relationship also started to strain as Farley got more attention.

Black Sheep isn't just a bad movie; its back story and Farley's subsequent career and personal slide make it a depressing reminder of potential wasted.



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