Film review: Black Sheep

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 6 1996 12:00 a.m. MST

Last year's "Tommy Boy" was a surprise box-office hit and a fairly amusing goofball comedy that paired "Saturday Night Live" alumni Chris Farley and David Spade. (OK, so Spade is still on the show this season; but he's not on it much.)

Since "Tommy Boy" made money, a re-teaming was inevitable, but "Black Sheep" is an appropriately titled misfire, a des-perate slapstick comedy that falls flat at nearly every turn.

This time, Farley plays the title character, Mike Donnelly, a good-hearted oaf who is such a bumbling idiot that he inadvertently sabotages his older brother's gubernatorial campaign in Washington state.

Tim Matheson plays Al Donnelly, the governor wannabe, and casting Farley and Matheson as brothers is only the first of many off-the-wall ideas that seem ill-advised.

To keep Mike out of trouble — and out of the way — Al assigns one of his aides, Steve Dodds (Spade), to watch over him. And after a few disasters, they are banished to a cabin in a remote wooded area.

And it isn't long before the incumbent governor (Christine Eber-sole), who is losing in the polls, recognizes Al's brother as just the thing to bolster her own campaign strategy. As an aide describes Mike, "He's like Roger Clinton, Billy Carter and Ronald Reagan's entire family, all rolled into one."

Meanwhile, Mike keeps campaigning for his brother, though he spends most of his time hurting himself. He slams his thumb with the hood of a car, closes his tie in the trunk of another car and is dragged down the street, staples his hand while putting up posters . . . well, you get the idea.

Director Penelope Spheeris is obviously going for pain as comedy, but instead she has come up with comedy that is painful.

And this isn't the first time, although fans of her other movies, "Wayne's World," "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "The Little Rascals," might disagree.

In "Black Sheep," however, she hits a new low. It's just not inherently funny to have a female governor swearing, to have Spade beating Farley over the head with a broom as he tries to kill a bat or having the characters make any number of urinating and defecating jokes. Some sort of cleverness is needed to make this work, and neither Spheeris' direction nor "Tommy Boy" co-writer Fred Wolf's script provide any.

And sentimental subplots — like the one that has Farley befriending a young boy whose parents are divorced — don't help.

The film is at its best when Farley and Spade are allowed to play off each other within the confines of their familiar personas, Farley as the well-meaning nincompoop who falls all over himself and Spade acting superior as he makes his snide comments, then having his remarks turned back on him. But there's not much of that here.

Gary Busey tries hard as a psycho Vietnam veteran (what else?) who is described by Spade as being "like Leatherface, Chucky and Jan Brady all rolled into one." But the movie itself is just as jumbled as that description.

Where "Tommy Boy" wasn't half bad, "Black Sheep" isn't half good.

"Black Sheep" is rated PG-13 for violence, profanity, vulgarity and marijuana smoking.