It's admittedly hard to do an introduction to the Chris Farley tome Black Sheep. Because undoubtedly the death of Chris Farley was a tragedy in the entertainment world. He was a likable kid full of energy and Midwestern charm. But at the risk of desecrating the man and his perception by many, was Black Sheep going to be the same type of film he would make for a couple of decades? Something where he threw his body into any possible position in order to gain a laugh or two? If he was going to be "Jimmy the Physical Comedy Monkey Boy" for a couple of decades, I would rather he had faded away than just burned out.
Saturday Night Live writer Fred Wolf penned the script which Penelope Spheeris (The Little Rascals) directed. Farley plays Mike Donnelly, the younger brother of Al (Tim Matheson, Animal House), a candidate for the Washington governor's seat, currently held by Governor Tracy (SNL vet Christine Ebersole). Mike works at a youth center to help kids, but generally his behavior is viewed as an embarrassment to his brother's campaign, so he is banished to work in rural areas with Steve (David Spade, Rules of Engagement), a campaign worker with higher aspirations. And lordy lordy, the Spade-Farley shenanigans ensue!
So now that you've read the above plot summary, how much of it sounds like the first Spade-Farley film Tommy Boy? Oh, and unlike Spade's character there, he kind of tolerates Farley's character in Black Sheep. This is a mistake because what partly made Tommy Boy so funny was that Spade's venomous delivery and contempt for everyone including Tommy Callahan made it fun to watch. Here he kind of gets to do nothing, and it shows. And unlike Tommy Boy, the film's jokes and gags are watered down and telegraphed for some ungodly reason. It's no coincidence that Spade's appearance and pairing with Farley occurs less than six minutes into the film. A typical scene in the film is Farley looking at something that is going to get him hurt, says as much, and then gets hurt by it anyway. Or gets hurt/in a pickle, sports a hammish grin, and then does something goofy to wriggle his way out of it. It's the cinematic equivalent of watching the Muhammad Ali-Larry Holmes fight.
All in all, even at 86 minutes, Black Sheep is that brutal. Jokes simply aren't funny, performances from top to bottom feel phoned in, and while the story is transparently obvious, it doesn't work because those involved simply don't believe in it. While Farley went on to do a couple more films before his untimely death, history seems to have remembered him favorably for his first one. I wish others would do the same.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The 1.85:1 1080p high definition presentation of Black Sheep is given the MPEG-4 treatment, and it looks pretty good. Blacks do sport a little bit of an occasional crush, but image detail is generally good, film grain is present though not really a distraction, and the backgrounds are fairly clear and possess detail also. An early scene where Al and Mike are on a football field shows a surprising amount of clarity on the field, with individual blades of grass being spotted. It's almost like there was time and effort given to the production values of Black Sheep. If you're looking to upgrade your standard definition copy, feel free.
Paramount appears to be giving its catalog titles decent audio at least, as the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack gives the film a hand when it needs to. The soundtrack has more music to it than I remember, outside of the scenes at a "Rock the Vote" concert which end the film's second act. Songs sound good and bring a small low-end punch to them, and in other isolated scenes, you can pick up directional activity. When a boulder rolls down a hill, there's even a slight hint of speaker panning. All in all it was nice to hear how Black Sheep sounded, even if the film stunk.
Not a thing which, for this film, is a good thing.
While the most of the participants in Black Sheep have moved on to other things, this film remains a justifiable black mark on their careers, a quick paycheck for some, a regrettable work for others. But hey, at least the film is a slight technical surprise, even if everything else is abominable, right? Wrong. Move past this with great speed and stealth.