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Black Sheep

(1996) * Pg-13
87 min. Paramount Pictures. Director: Penelope Spheeris. Cast: Chris Farley (II), David Spade, Tim Matheson, Christine Ebersole, Gary Busey.

/content/films/3421/1.jpgBlack Sheep. Dirty Work. Joe Dirt. Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star. Without a Paddle. Strange Wilderness. Chances are that if you've seen these movies, you either love them or hate them. What do they have in common? Screenwriter Fred Wolf and cast members from Saturday Night Live. A former head writer for SNL, Wolf has put his name to some of the most hated Hollywood comedies of the last thirteen years. Black Sheep—a vehicle for the then-burgeoning comedy team of Chris Farley and David Spade—was for all intents and purposes a loose remake of Tommy Boy: quick-witted, tightly wound twerp (Spade) finds himself babysitting klutzy, danger-prone, overgrown child (Farley) on a road trip. It's nice to see the two together, practicing their easy screen rapport—and no doubt more so given Farley's untimely passing—but Black Sheep is still a clunker.

This time, Farley plays Mike Donnelly, the "black sheep" brother to Washington-state gubernatorial candidate Al Donnelly (Tim Matheson). When Mike—runs the Pierce County Rec Center—fails to avoid the spotlight, sitting Governor Evelyn Tracy (Christine Ebersole) is pleased as punch: "Donnelly's brother is like Roger Clinton, Billy Carter and Ronald Reagan' entire family rolled into one" (it's a mark of Wolf's lazy screenwriting that Spade later says of another character, "This guy is like Leatherface, Chucky, and Jan Brady all rolled into one"). Chief of staff Roger Kovary (Timothy Carhart) wants to cut Mike loose, but the loyal Al won't hear of it. Seeing an opportunity for advancement, ambitious campaign aide Steve Dodds (Spade) accepts the task of handling Mike for the duration of the election.

That's the long and the short of it, though the stars, Wolf, and director Penelope Spheeris (Wayne's World) try to put some meat on the bones. Farley can be an appealing man-child in small doses, but here he's exhausting, more than ever falling back on his signature physicality: yelling, flailing, and whipping his unruly mane to and fro. It doesn't help that even Wolf seems bored with the plot—especially frayed-end subplots like Mike's friendships with local boy Scott Colleary (Michael Patrick Carter). Supporting characters played by Bruce McGill (The Insider, Cinderella Man) and Grant Heslov (more recently the successful co-screenwriter, with George Clooney, of Good Night, and Good Luck) are likewise woefully bereft of development or even mildly funny material.

The slapstick-heavy proceedings mostly just labor to find ways to snag Farley's jacket on various moving objects. There's a bit of fun once Mike and Steve reach a remote log cabin that's going to pieces (though an extended sequence in which they're freaked out by and subsequently trap a bat is typically long and humor-free). Nearby, they run afoul of angry survivalist Sgt. Drake Sabitch, who's "unstable at best." As played by Gary Busey, Sabitch briefly jolts the picture to life, but it's too little, too late. The weak-sauce satire of paparazzi and dirty politics goes nowhere, so it's understandable when Spheeris shoehorns in a Rock the Vote event headlined by Mudhoney. It's seemingly almost by accident, then, that the movie locates an opportunity for Mike to botch a public appearance by mindlessly and amusingly spouting crowd-pleasing clichés. Wouldn't you know it, though? He goes a step too far, shouting, "Kill whitey!" Oh, what will Fred Wolf come up with next?

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.0

Street date: 5/12/2009

Distributor: Paramount Home Video

For its Blu-ray debut, Black Sheep comes in a clean and surprisingly crisp transfer. The film-like image offers strong texture and detail, and earns solid marks all around. The sound mix is a perhaps overqualified Dolby TrueHD 5.0 track that suits the film's humble aural needs. No bonus features on this bare-bones budget disc—just the film in a nicely done A/V presentation.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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