Black Sheep Review
Black Sheep re-unites Saturday Night Live comedy-duo Chris Farley and David Spade for more mishaps and mayhem. Like their earlier collaboration Tommy Boy, Spade’s character is again thrust into ‘looking-after’ duties of Farley’s failing, accident prone creation. Here, Farley plays Mike Donnelly, the younger brother of Al (Tim Matheson) who happens to be running for Washington State Governor. Mike just wants to help but unfortunately his attempts at helping his brother’s campaign only lead them both into ever-deepening trouble. When Mike gets wrongly accused of a fire at a local youth center, Al tells assistant Steve Dobbs (Spade) to escort Mike to a secluded country house in the hope his campaign can go on without any further problems.
After the success of Tommy Boy it’s not surprising that its two stars would return for another collaboration, but what is surprising is that the follow-up is virtually the same movie made again. Maybe their grandparents hammered the saying ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’ just a little too deeply into their heads, because despite a different premise, it is the same story of boy-useless turned hero. So having said that, while their earlier film is the far superior, Black Sheep is still very enjoyable, extremely funny no-brain entertainment. It works because it knows what made the first film a success – Farley and Spade’s on-screen comedic chemistry. The downside of this is that jokes are re-used, or over-used and unfortunately this time they miss more than they hit. However, as Farley has proven in his cut-short career, when his gags hit the funny bone they’re achingly hilarious.
One of the first things to note is that the screenplay, which was written by Fred Wolf, was his first feature length film script since being a co-writer on Saturday Night Live. Obviously, the void between writing comedy sketches and writing ninety-minute film scripts is immense, and it is here where the movie ultimately fails. Wolf struggles to maintain a cohesive plot while losing the supporting characters to cut-out caricatures. Our only sympathy lies with Farley, mainly due to his bubbly, soft natured way of playing the character more than anything the script offers. What becomes painfully obvious is that many of the scenes feel like individual comedy sketches that aren’t a part of the whole, which shows up the writer’s immaturity, but this is also a fault of the director. Penelope Spheeris’ best work came in the form of Wayne’s World and she hasn’t done anything of real note before or since. She relies on the quality of comedy in the script, and the performances of the actors to hide her inadequacies. Here, where she is compensated by one, she is let down by the other.
Why would I recommend this film? Well, Chris Farley was a great comedian and he never made enough films in a starring role, his most prominent being Tommy Boy, Beverly Hills Ninja and Black Sheep. While this film doesn’t live up to the quality set by his first film, his original physical humour is still on show and with comedy partner David Spade, they both still work off each other to brilliant comedic effect. The supporting cast do just turn up and read their lines, with the exception of Gary Busey, who for no real reason plays an ex-military soldier who still believes he’s in battle. Gritting his teeth and red-faced, the type-cast one just about offers enough over-the-top psychosis to support the leading two’s humour, and gives the movie’s comedy a slightly different slant.
The film is presented with its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and has anamorphic enhancement. Firstly, for a film that is really only going to be bought by a small number of fans that follow Farley’s work, Paramount should be given a slap on the back for giving us a correct aspect ratio. It is becoming increasingly common that many films are being released as pan and scan only, with a quick search of Steve Martin or John Candy’s work on DVD for example, showing half their catalogue languishing on discs that only provide 4:3 panned and scammed! Paramount should also be thanked for providing an excellent quality to the picture. Some beautiful landscapes are photographed in the film and show up wonderfully in the daylight on the disc. Additionally, nighttime scenes are also well presented with shadow detail and colours as good as can be expected. Colour tones are natural and the image is sharp and clear. There is very little print damage if any, with only the odd speck of dirt showing up now and again which you’ll only really notice if you’re starring at the screen looking purposefully for it.
The sound is surprising for two reasons: one, it is encoded on the disc as Dolby Digital 5.0 with the sub-woofer channel missing; and two, it sounds very good indeed. While the lack of the .0 channel will surely annoy those with powerful subs, the lack of it doesn’t show up. The surround channels are used especially well given that this is a film that relies on its visual gags and dialogue-based humour. Much more than Tommy Boy, here the sound is a joy to hear, the only unfortunate thing being that it doesn’t play a major role cinematically. There’s good ambience and the dialogue, music and sound effects are crisp and crystal clear.
Paramount have done themselves proud with this disc as far as the film itself is concerned, but in terms of added features, they seemed to have forgotten. To be honest, I’m just glad these type of back catalogue comedies are being released, and I’m especially glad that this film gets its original theatrical aspect ratio. If extras had been added to this disc, I don’t expect they would have been very interesting. I doubt Spheeris or Wolf would have done a commentary, but a David Spade one would have been interesting.
Fans of Chris Farley will certainly find some joy in this film. His humour is original and unmatched, but it is just a shame that the overall film package isn’t up to the standards of his first feature film. Newcomers to Farley should try Tommy Boy first, while the casual viewer will probably fall into the trap of seeing only the blatant bad points. The film is flawed, that is obvious, but it sets out to make its audience laugh and on just about enough occasions it does just that. The film is thankfully presented with excellent sound and vision, although there are no extras.