Reviews

Tommy Boy: Holy Schnike Edition (1995)

Jesse Hassenger

It seems odd that this well-executed formula buddy comedy would have such a tortured birthing process.


Tommy Boy: Holy Schnike Edition

Director: Peter Segal
Cast: Chris Farley, David Spade, Rob Lowe, Brian Dennehy, Julie Warner
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Paramount
First date: 1995
US DVD Release Date: 2005-08-30
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Do you sense an impending panic on the part of the DVD production machine formerly known as Hollywood? DVD sales for 2005 have not met expectations. This shouldn't be unexpected, as the number of older titles coming to DVD had to taper off, just as the replacement of records and tapes with compact discs resulted in years of unrealistic record-industry growth. But still, studios trying to ride the wave of collectors who want the "best" edition of everything have become more re-release-mad than ever.

Which leads us to Tommy Boy: Holy Schnike Edition. I don't begrudge Tommy Boy, the 1995 Chris Farley comedy, another go at the format, as, like many Paramount titles, its original release was bare-bones (other Paramount back titles coming out with cutely-titled special editions include Clueless and Airplane!). But the main purpose of the special features here isn't to enhance the pleasantly simple Tommy Boy experience. It's to spill over onto a second disc, thus further differentiating it from the previous release.

These extra features also reveal that no small amount of luck is involved in the successful Saturday Night Live film. On a DVD like, say, Anchorman, you can see piles of alternate versions of scenes, with actors launching into different tangents and riffs; some also offer discarded subplots, with their own running gags and inspired performances. In terms of sheer numbers, Tommy Boy is right up there with its extra footage: 27 extended, alternate, or deleted scenes, as well as separate gag reel. But despite the occasional amusing moment (the best is a quick sequence in which Farley tumbles through a lot of parked cars, cut after being deemed too naked an emulation of John Belushi, Farley's idol), this is a sea of rough, listless material. Farley and costar David Spade don't cut loose with inspired adlibs, physical or verbal.

Tommy Boy delivers slapstick simplicity: Tommy Callahan (Farley), the screw-up son of an auto parts magnate, goes on an odd-couple road trip with his dad's acerbic right-hand man Richard (David Spade), to save the family business. The visual comedy is firmly rooted in their big guy/small guy dynamic. In "Tommy Boy: Behind the Laughter," a 30-minute making-of featurette, director Peter Segal reveals that the script was rewritten by SNL writer Fred Wolf, who tailored it during production for Farley and Spade's sensibilities; the story originally followed Tommy's relationship with his new stepbrother, a villain in the finished film, played with amusing scuzziness by Rob Lowe.

It seems odd that this well-executed formula buddy comedy would have such a tortured birthing process. Spade says it was shot concurrently with the 1994-95 season of SNL, with the stars flying between New York and Toronto several times a week. This provides a brief, tantalizing window into potential reasons for the creative stall at SNL in the mid-'90s; a more comprehensive Spade-Farley piece might've included greater context.

There's slightly more behind-the-scenes detail in "Stories from the Side of the Road," a set of interviews with the cast and crew on the genesis of several modest Tommy Boy set pieces. The scenes, such as Farley's manic sales pitch that quickly devolves into the destruction of a potential client's toy cars, are often very funny, but an entire featurette devoted to them feels like too much ado about nothing too complicated.

These lightweight features do provide a venue for everyone's genuinely fond memories of the production Segal, who has since moved on to more profitable (though mostly less amusing) comedies, is particularly engaged, in the featurettes as well as his feature-length commentary. He mentions Tommy Boy as a career highlight for the late Farley, implicitly acknowledging that his following vehicles (Black Sheep, also with Spade; Beverly Hills Ninja) aren't very good, and notes that Farley (who died of a drug overdose in 1997) was clean, sober, and committed during filming.

So in the end, maybe some undue attention to the intricacies of Tommy Boy isn't such a bad thing. The film is sweet-natured if clichéd, showcasing what effective guidance achieved for the team of Farley and Spade, two comics who often seem adrift in their separate vehicles. So, watch out for that Beverly Hills Ninja two-disc commemorative edition, or a Dickie Roberts director's cut.

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