Nostalgia sure can mask the truth sometimes, can’t it? Disneyland seems less and less like an overpriced, overcrowded tourist trap the longer it’s been since I’ve visited. Cartoon shows that I grew up on, now finally on DVD, can’t hold my interest for more than a few minutes anymore. Macaroni tastes awful more times than not, and let’s be frank: that “show” at Chuck E. Cheese is pretty damn creepy. With this in mind, I went in to my viewing of ‘Tommy Boy’ with a bit of trepidation. How would this film hold up, having not seen it for nearly 10 years? Would any of the gags still be funny, or would I discover another casualty from childhood by revisiting this film and being bored to death?
The story follows Tommy Callahan III (Chris Farley) on his journey of self discovery from bumbling man-child to, well, bumbling adult. The developmentally challenged son of Big Tom Callahan (Brian Dennehy), the local car brake factory owner, Tommy comes home to work in the family business after his college graduation (that only took seven years), to discover his father is engaged to be married, and that he’ll finally have a brother. This harmony is short lived, though, as Big Tom dies shortly after tying the knot.
The death of Callahan Auto Parts’ owner puts the entire city of Sandusky, Ohio in peril, as many other factories had closed since Tommy had been away at College. In order to keep the factory and town alive, Tommy volunteers to go on his father’s sales route, along with Big Tom’s assistant, Richard (David Spade), to compensate for his being green behind the ears in the family business. Tommy must learn to be a salesman under dire circumstances, handle Richard’s constant biting criticism, and overcome a backstabbing that could kill the business for good.
‘Tommy Boy’ is nothing more than a vehicle for Spade and Farley in their first starring roles. The odd pair, resembling Laurel and Hardy, have a perfect, warm chemistry between them, due to a strong sense of familiarity with their shared SNL past, which sells even the unfunniest of jokes. We’re not given so much a “straight man, funny man” routine as we are given a “developmentally challenged man-child, sarcastic ass” gimmick that is the only memorable thing in a fairly unremarkable film, while any brief moments of peace or seriousness are dismissed with a scene of Farley doing his trademark yelling, which is usually a gas regardless of what is being bellowed. ‘Tommy Boy’ has to be the rotund funny man’s best work in a career that was sadly ended too short, but that doesn’t make it a good film by any means.
The story falters any time Farley and Spade aren’t on screen, with a particularly horrid bit with Bo Derek as Big Tom’s wife Beverly and Rob Lowe as her “son” Paul mucking things up. While the story needs people to root against, so as to weight Tommy’s trip in reality, this subplot is flat awful, not so much in taste as in it’s writing. I get it, Paul is a rebel, he’s a bad ass, he wants to do “dangerous” things, but that is the extent of his character’s development, while Beverly is there only to be someone to take a portion of Big Tom’s stock, with no other purpose in the film whatsoever. This disjointed story line can be explained in the extras to the disc, where they discuss altering the story every night as they went along.
The saddest revelation that came from my first adult viewing of this film was how very much it has aged, and how funny it isn’t anymore, as it is stuck in the zeitgeist of the ’90’s. ‘Tommy Boy’ is actually a very clean comedy, by modern standards, where the humor comes from action/reaction rather than gross out/bigger gross out (which is only funny on the first viewing), yet I couldn’t find any reason to laugh. I cannot tell if this is due to too many repeat viewings in my youth, or just due to the material being presented.
The 1080P, AVC codec used for ‘Tommy Boy’ is technically sound, though fairly unspectacular. I went into this viewing with fairly low expectations, and they were barely met. While the grain level is very soft and, for the most part, un-noticeable, the same could be said about the detail. Debris was a constant nuisance, as the film looked amazingly dirty for it’s age. Backgrounds were frequently a non-defined mess, and to round out my laundry list of complaints, some shots in the opening and closing moments were sadly littered with black and white specks, like the dandruff that would probably reside in Tommy’s scalp was thrust at the screen.
While there is nothing to write home about here, there are some positive moments. I found skin tones to be satisfactory and diverse (the board room scenes show a great example, as some members are pale and ghastly, while others tanned or flush with blood in their facial features). I could see clearly how not white Farley and Spade’s teeth were, and the intricate patterns in suits could still be discerned, even though they did look a bit fuzzy. Still, while it’s odd to say a film this recent shows it’s age, that is the case here.
Paramount graces ‘Tommy Boy’ with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track that really isn’t given much to work with, but makes the best of it. The opening sequence is easily one of the most active, with score, atmospheric effects, and dialogue sprinkled together, though this high level of energy doesn’t last for long in the film. Rear speakers are hardly utilized in this extremely front heavy mix, and for the most part of the movie, the subwoofer is comatose. When the characters hit the Zalinsky testing area, the bass does pick up to great effect, but it is a bit too little, too late. Dialogue is clear, and is perfectly balanced, including Farley’s trademark over the top screaming. If you don’t go in expecting a rock’em sock’em audio mix, and you’ll be satisfied, though anyone expecting anything more than “acceptable” will be disappointed.
The Blu-ray of ‘Tommy Boy’ ports over almost all of the special features from the 2005 DVD re-release. The only thing missing is the series of trailers for other Paramount titles.
Tommy Boy does have heart, but, just like Tommy, it’s buried beneath a thick layer of fat. While it hasn’t aged too well over the years, it is safe to say that few comedies do. The audio and video qualities of this release aren’t quite amazing, but they definitely aren’t bad, either. Perhaps it is best to just leave it to the latter portion of the film’s tagline, “If at first you don’t succeed, lower your standards.”
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