How do I criticize a movie that I think is a nearly perfect comedy? I figure it's fair that I lay out my bias immediately. When I first experienced "Tommy Boy" back in the mid-90s, I knew nothing about either Chris Farley or David Spade. Not being one to stay home and watch television on a Saturday night, I was unfamiliar with their substantial body of work on "Saturday Night Live." What I did see was an incredibly funny comedy featuring two men who had diametrically-opposing personalities that, when put in conflict, resulted in hilarity.
"Tommy Boy" is the story of an idiot man-child, Tom Callahan, Jr. who is thrust into responsibility when his father dies. Times have been tough in the small, blue collar town that Tommy grew up in. Factories have been shutting down and Callahan Auto is the only thing holding it together. Three hundred people are depending on Tommy to spur incredible interest in a new brake line and make the plant viable… or else they'll be bought out and closed.
The comedy in this particular film comes from Farley's ebullient style. He's loud and boisterous without a hint of self-conscienceness. If he held back, it wouldn't work. But because everything is big, from the physical comedy involving his girth to minor head trauma, Farley makes the movie funny.
David Spade's Richard is exactly the opposite. Snarky and self-involved, Spade plays Richard as an intellectual foil to Farley's Tommy. Whereas Tommy stutters and sputters when in conflict, Richard always has a line to make himself feel superior. His insults belie a person who, through life, was never accepted into social circles so in turn he becomes angry at the world and lashes out through words.
When Tommy is forced to go out on the road to save Callahan Auto, Richard is assigned to guide him through the process. The "Odd Couple" pairing results in some of the most hilarious moments. The film becomes a road comedy, only while the participants are working toward the same goal, they don't like each other very much. The result is a compressed dynamic that allows for a variety of comedy settings.
The best part about "Tommy Boy" is that it is, by and large, a fun movie. Although there are a couple of racier scenes, including one where Richard is busting while playing with himself while looking at a woman skinny dipping and another when he pulls a prank on Tommy involving housekeeping, the movie is clean fun. It doesn't have a lot of gross out humor and doesn't need to swear to be funny.
Plus the film is infinitely quotable. Though I've got the movie near memorized, I still laugh uproariously at "Fat Guy in a Little Coat" and the scene where Tommy quizzes Richard on his favorite "Lil' Rascal."
"Tommy Boy" has a great charm about it. A comedic wonder, it also houses a story of personal growth as Tommy understands the responsibility he has been given and Richard learns how to get along with others. Rob Lowe is delicious as the deviant brother-in-law who works to sabotage Tommy's plans, and Julie Warner sweet as Tommy's love interest. The entire cast, from Brian Dennehy to Bo Derek, is excellent in their roles, no matter the size. And it's all topped off by a theme of thriving against adversity in blue collar America, something I think we can all get behind. "Tommy Boy" is an excellent movie that will be remembered for years to come.
The anamorphic 1.78:1 video transfer looks very good. The original DVD wasn't bad and I can't say that I notice a significant improvement at all. The colors are solid, there are few if any artifacts like scratches or marks. Lines are definite and while there is a little edge enhancement, it's only noticeable during the titles.
There are two audio flavors, both of them variations on a theme. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is the default, and there's a 2.0 stereo track as well. Both are relatively unremarkable with a good reflection of the original soundtrack. The music is dynamic and the dialogue is crisp, which is essential considering the speed of some of the jokes.
Director Peter Segal sits down for a commentary and gives a host of anecdotes about the making of the film, the genesis of the story and about how he began working with Chris Farley. Segal is interesting and has a lot to say, though he occasionally gets lost in the film. You can chuckle along with him.
The second disc houses the bulk of the extra features, including four featurettes that talk about the film and its stars. "Tommy Boy: Behind The Laughter" looks at how the movie took off. There are some great retrospective interviews with the cast and crew and behind-the-scenes footage. The documentary packs a lot of info into a brief segment, but never made me feel like I was wasting my time. On an off note, Peter Segal has a "Callahan Auto" hat that I want! Segal and crew also take time to reminisce on the star of the film, Tommy Boy himself, Chris Farley and his relationship with David Spade. Few, if any, stones are left unturned, including the genesis of "Holy Schnikes." Outstanding.
"Stories from the Side of the Road" is a set of recollections about some of the finest scenes in the movie and their genesis, including "Fat Guy in a Little Coat" and the "Burning Car." It's a breakdown of the cinematic process. Perhaps my favorite bit talks about setting up the deer in the car. It's incredibly enlightening about the perils of the film that feels so seamless.
"Just the Two of Us" hits the nerve center of the relationship between David Spade and Chris Farley. They are the closes thing to a modern-day Laurel and Hardy we've probably ever seen. It just accentuates how tragic Farley's early death truly was.
The surviving Farley Brothers, Kevin and John, reminisce on their youth with brother Chris. As crazy as he seemed as an adult, Chris was even worse as an unrestrained boy. The stories are simply a stitch.
Peter Segal's comedy style is very analytical and leaves little to chance. By comparing his story boards to the finished product it's obvious to see that Segal had a clear vision for how he wanted to film to look. It's a stark difference from the slapdash feel that the film could have contained.
There are also a host of deleted, extended and alternate scenes that are introduced by director Peter Segal. They are non-anamorphic and of varying quality but are nice to have.
And what would a comedy DVD be without a gag reel? Especially considering the caliber of this talent? And you get to see Farley's ass.
For those who enjoy photo galleries… you'll have a killer time with these stills.
And there are ten TV spots used to plug the movie to television audiences. Theatrical trailers are included as well.
Also to note… there are six promos that play automatically when you put the DVD in your player. They have to be fast-forwarded or chapter-skipped each time. A huge pain, especially if you want to watch the movie often.
"Tommy Boy" will someday be regarded as a classic comedy in line with "Animal House," "Airplane" and "The Jerk." That's high company, but it's also how highly I hold "Tommy Boy." It's a great comedy… but what's better is that it has a great heart. This DVD package holds some extras that every fan will be more than pleased to own.