Blu-ray Review: Tommy Boy: Holy Schnike Edition (1995)

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What was it about Farley and Spade that made them such an effective comedic duo? Of course, on the surface, there was the classic physical difference of a big guy and a little guy which hearkens back to Laurel and Hardy. And sure enough, it is referenced in some of the behind-the-scenes featurettes including "Tommy Boy: Behind the Laughter" available in this stunning Paramount Home Entertainment Blu-ray edition of director Peter Segal's 1995 film. However, I think at its core the reason we bought Farley and Spade was the level of friendship and affection that the two had for each other in real life.

You can't fake chemistry and although-- due to his physical presence-- he was often compared to John Candy and John Belushi, the gentle naivete and sweetness seemed to easily emanate from Farley (as it does with other SNL stars turned actors Sandler, Carvey, and Ferrell). Yet, when it came to this team-- while at times Farley could go all over the map-- his counterpart had the impeccable ability to bring him back to the right course where they incited giggles in spades (if you forgive a reference to the talented and extremely underrated Mr. Spade).

According to the featurette "Just the Two of Us"-- friends since day one together on SNL where they bonded walking over to the set and in the small office they shared under the tutelage of the man who discovered them-- Lorne Michaels-- no matter how in sync they appeared, part of their success seemed to be as Spade noted in the '95 Paramount press release the fact that "we're two really different people." Whereas, "Chris is a big, loud, obnoxious guy," Spade describes himself as "a whole lot quieter and more low-key," resulting in the "contrast [being] pretty funny."

Or as Farley put it, "It helps too that I love David's sense of humor more than anyone's. He has the ability to find farce in any given situation and narrow in on one point that is really absurb and then blow it up to a huge proportion-- he's so good at that... [we] spend so much time together... that people say we're beginning to look alike."

Offering the men the well-deserved opportunity to branch off from their success on SNL to really carry a feature film, Michaels and his relative newbie director Peter Segal (who has since gone on to direct this year's Get Smart) recount the extremely difficult and lengthy process it took to get the film made.

Originally pitched to Paramount as a story wherein Farley and Rob Lowe would simply play brothers, once Spade was brought in, it was quickly apparent that although Farley and Lowe do in fact play stepbrothers, it's really the dynamic between the two SNL cast members that feels the most authentic and familial. To quote a line that Farley delivers to Lowe early on in the film, "we're family; we're gonna be doing lots of dumb stuff together" and so the cast did with this joyful Planes, Trains, and Automobiles styled romp which takes the traditional straight man and funny man comedic set-up and SNL paradigm of the blue-collar dorky innocent verses the smug, scheming yuppie jerks and made a contemporary comedy favorite.

Although it didn't break any major box office records, what Tommy Boy had-- more than any of the films featuring Spade and Farley in their sadly short lived career working alongside one another-- was staying power and genuinely hysterical scenes that just get funnier with each viewing. Filmed in a breakneck schedule which found them trying to divide their time between Saturday Night Live and the Canadian film set not to mention endless script revisions and incarnations as Segal and screenwriter Fred Wolf revised the original version penned by Coneheads and 3rd Rock from the Sun writers Bonnie and Terry Turner to maximize the humor-- this chaotic production resulted into days where the actors arrived having literally no idea what was going to happen given the incomplete script. Yet despite these overwhelming obstacles which would normally spell disaster, somehow they managed to strike a chord with audiences in the '90s.

As cast member Dan Aykroyd wrote in his dedication to Segal on the poster, he was thankful to have the opportunity to be introduced to the next generation. Using a very familiar plot set-up of a lovable loser who must fight to save his family's business (a la Billy Madison), protect loved ones (a la Happy Gilmore) and stand up to the yuppies (a la Wayne's World), Farley stars as the recent Marquette University graduate who manages to squeak out with a Bachelor's Degree in seven years with the most enthusiastic reception of a D+ grade in film history.

Returning to Sandusky, Ohio to go to work for his father Big Tom's automotive company, Farley's "Tommy Boy" is thrown for a loop when his dad (played by Brian Dennehy who manages to touch us in a few choice scenes) passes away unexpectedly following his whirlwind marriage to the beautiful Beverly (Bo Derek, whose introduction to audiences echoes her famous scene from director Blake Edwards' 10).

In order to prevent the debt-ridden company from going under and save the jobs of literally his entire community whose lives depend on Callahan Auto (especially timely given today's economic crisis with the American auto industry), Farley fast-talks his father's right hand man, Richard Hayden (Spade) into going on the road with him to sell as many brake pads as possible.

In a wild road-trip comedy of misadventures involving unceasing fights, embarrassments, disaster, deer that come back to life, and radio sing-alongs, they finally end up in a major showdown with Aykroyd's auto parts king along with Tommy's stepmom and shady brother-in-law who may have a hidden agenda after all.

With so many quotable lines and hilarious moments that have seeped into our popular culture including "Holy Schikes!", "that's gonna leave a mark," "fat guy in a little coat," and the endless interplay and balance between Farley's surprisingly athletic and dancer like grace (from training both in sports as a child and in ballet at Marquette as his brothers share in "Growing Up Farley") along with Spade's incredibly versatile "verbal and articulate" way with words as Lorne Michaels described in the production notes, it's a film that's always fun to revisit. One of those rainy day movies that's guaranteed to cheer you up or as actresses Julie Warner and Bo Derek share, a film with heart and joy that has brought so much laughter to audiences over the years, it's very eye-opening to finally see it on Blu-ray after so many years of settling for the VHS and endless cable television runs of the film.

Surprisingly beautiful with the fall scenery of gold and yellow leaves, the crystal clear water where Tommy makes a feeble attempt at sailing with his love interest, and their drive throughout the plains of the Midwest-- between our fits of laughter at their antics and endless bad sales pitches-- I'd forgotten just how wonderfully shot it was and could appreciate it (most likely similar to the Midwestern raised Farley and Midwestern born Spade) on that level as well.

Filled with insightful revelations from its talented cast, including Rob Lowe who jokes that originally his Tommy Boy character was "written as a sort of cousin to my character in Wayne's World." Likewise, Lowe still fondly recalls Segal's ability to work as a precise "comedy mathematician" not to mention his admission (which is verified by Spade) that his beauty caused a rift in the relationship of Spade and Farley who literally ended up fighting over their "exclusive" relationship when Spade hung out with Lowe one night without asking his "spouse" along. Filled with lots of great memories and insider details, ultimately the Holy Schnike edition is a love letter to the legacy of not just Farley but the Farley and Spade team, which showed remarkable promise.

While it's bittersweet to watch it on one level as-- behind the laughter (to reference the title of the Blu-ray's best extra)-- we're aware that sadly Farley's life would end much too soon and feel equally torn when we see Spade do his best work alongside his "brother from another mother," the Paramount Blu-ray treatment is a fan's delight.

With director commentary as well as a combination of several dozen deleted and extended scenes and alternate takes, storyboard comparisons, the HD trailer, a photo gallery, and television spots-- the 1080p high definition color is crystal clear with zero artifacting and excellent contrast between the flesh tones and evening scenes and makes the film look even better than it did when it first was released theatrically.

And while I can't guarantee that it'll make you want to sing along to The Carpenters in your convertible unless you have the perfect sidekick, you'll no doubt echo Tommy's favorite sentiment once you hit eject of "That was awesome!!!"

Chris Farley