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‘Tommy Boy’ (PG-13)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 31, 1995

LET'S BE positive about this: Chris Farley's performance in "Tommy Boy" could be seen as a dry run for a better movie down the road. At times, the likable, tubby performer throws himself into this comedy with hysterical abandon.

But it's also clear from the get-go that "Tommy Boy" is just another knockoff from the "Saturday Night Live" mafia. A starring vehicle for Farley and David Spade (both performers on the show), the movie was produced by "SNL" creator Lorne Michaels, who made both "Wayne's World" films, "Gilda Live" and "Coneheads"; and it was written by Fred Wolf, a writer on the show, with Bonnie Turner and Terry Turner -- who co-scripted the "Wayne's World" films and "Coneheads."

The movie's plot suggests a bad John Hughes ripoff of a Capra movie: Farley has just finished a decade of college, scraping through his final course with a D+. He returns in triumph to hometown Sandusky, Ohio, where his loving father (Brian Dennehy) intends to make Farley the heir of his floundering auto-parts factory.

Unfortunately, Dennehy passes on to a better life (and hopefully, better movies), turning his new bride (Bo Derek) into a widow on her wedding day and leaving Farley with imminent bankruptcy, a crowd of soon-to-be-unemployed workers that he has known since childhood, and truckloads of unsold brake pads.

Unaware that Derek and cohort Rob Lowe are scheming to sell the company and pocket the profits, Farley goes on the road to sell the pads. He's accompanied unwillingly by Spade, Dennehy's compulsive, former right-hand man. A road picture -- starring a good-hearted fat slob and a cynical nerd -- begins. Some of it is funny -- particularly the physical comedy. Most of it is not.

Mostly, "Tommy Boy" roots like an uninspired hog through the old swill of other, more successful movies. When Farley and Dennehy -- dressed in dark suits and supported by a live band -- perform a spirited version of Ray Charles's "What'd I Say" before wedding guests, you're reminded jarringly of "The Blues Brothers." When Farley and Spade sing tearfully to the Carpenters on their car radio, it's clear scriptwriters Turner and Turner reached automatically for their old "Wayne's World" floppies.

Farley sweats and grunts his way through the rewarmed routines with workmanlike exuberance. "I have what doctors call a bit of a weight problem," he tells love-interest Julie Warner, as if his enormous bulk is only apparent to the most discerning eye. And in the best scene of all, he attempts to demonstrate the importance of using his company's brake pads by creating a minor apocalypse before the horrified eyes of a potential customer. Using model cars on the poor man's desk, Farley recreates a gruesome road accident, by smashing one car into smithereens, igniting it with a lighter, then pretending to be a passerby who throws up at the sight of the horrible spectacle. As a sketch for a "Saturday Night Live" show, it would have been a tour de force. But as part of this rather unimaginative movie, it's just a bit with a burning desk.

TOMMY BOY (PG-13) -- Contains nudity and profanity.

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