REtroVIEW: Tommy Boy

TreyVore reviews Tommy Boy.
June 07, 2010
The year was 1995. Personally, I...sorta consider this to be the dullest, most uneventful year of the 1990s. Some good came out of this year, but there were a lot of low points. At this time, the NES was officially retired, the SNES and Genesis were becoming obsolete in favor of the Saturn and the PlayStation, and Nintendo's Virtual Boy and Sega's 32X failed miserably. Not being 18 and having hordes of R-rated movies at the multiplex meant I didn't have too many choices. The Batman film franchise was becoming campier to combat the darkness of "Batman Returns" and Disney's 1995 animated feature "Pocahontas" was nothing but a disappointment after "The Lion King". Jim Carrey announced that due to dissatisfaction with "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls" he would never do another film sequel. "Darkwing Duck" was no longer on The Disney Afternoon block, Bill Watterson announced that he was officially pulling the plug on his comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes" by the end of the year and the Power Rangers were already losing popularity...and no thanks to them, "Sonic SatAM" was officially dropped from ABC in favor of a "Free Willy" cartoon. Oh yeah, and famed Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla-Pérez was shot and killed by her fan club president. Even the year's highest grossing movie, "Toy Story", had failed to make $200 million.

What was good? Well, on March 31, 1995 (ironically, the same date Selena was murdered) was a movie that Lorne Michaels can be very proud of. It is an epicly hilarious road movie comedy called...

Director: Peter Segal

Cast: Chris Farley, David Spade, Julie Warner, Rob Lowe, Bo Derek, Brian Dehenny, Dan Akyroyd

Distributed by Paramount

Runtime: 97 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13 (sex-related humor, drug use, brief nudity)

"Tommy Boy" is a cult classic comedy that I remember seeing solely because the advertisements made the movie look absolutely hilarious. My brother and I saw theatrically and...what do you know? Hilarious! One thing that I love about a well-written movie is if I find that it has humor that lasts, identifiable characters and if I can find myself repeating lines from the movie, it has won. This movie has remained the most consistently popular film Chris Farley starred in and has maintained the most staying power. Now that it just turned 15 years old? Well, that's what this review is for, so here we go!


After seven years of college life, Tommy Callahan (Chris Farley) finally just barely graduated. Returning back home to Sandusky, Ohio, his industrialist dad, "Big Tom" Callahan (Brian Dehenny) rewards his success with a secure executive job at Callahan auto parts, which the family has been running for quite some time. There, he is able to reconnect with his childhood friends who also work at the plant: his dad's number-crunching yes-man Richard Hayden (David Spade) and sales manager Michelle Brock (Julie Warner).

But the good news is just beginning: his dad is officially engaged to a babe named Beverly Barrish-Burns (Bo Derek), who will soon be Tommy's new stepmother. Better yet, she has a son named Paul (Rob Lowe)--and that would mean Tommy is also getting a stepbrother in the deal too! This is awesome!

The wedding goes on as planned...

...but unfortunately, all is not well in Tommy's world. During the wedding reception, his dad dies suffering a sudden cardiac arrest.

And the problems don't end there. The bank rejected a loan to pay for new brake pads, which were thought, in Big Tom's eyes, to be the company's future. Wanting to secure his job, Tommy agrees to put his inheritance up for collateral to the bank. Taking Richard with him, they go on a road trip to try selling brake pads across the Midwestern US in order to secure the loan.

However, the problems with the bank and the fact Tommy and Richard are just beginning to grate on each other's nerves are only the beginning. It seems there is more to Paul and Beverly than one might first see--it turns out they are truthfully not a mother and son, but a married pair of con artists. Because Beverly now owns half of Big Tom's estate, they now are plotting to swindle their way into a gigantic score by screwing up anything potentially saleworthy so Tommy and Richard will fail in their road trip and they can sell Beverly's share of stock to Ray Zalinsky (Dan Akyroyd), the "Auto Parts King".

So the big question is: can Tommy and Richard pull their acts together, sell the brake pads they need, secure the loan, prevent a threat from Ray Zalinsky, save the company AND Sandusky, Ohio and expose Paul and Beverly for the scammers they are?

This is going to be one long road trip...


As I already stated, this movie stands as Chris Farley's most popular, enduring film. He had a lot of comedic talent and a likable personality to make himself worthy of being a movie superstar. Maybe he didn't have acting abilities anywhere near as sharp as his comedic timing, but we can't say it would have evolved in the time since then. Would it have been possible he would have gained even more? That we'll never know, but I think so.

For the movie, I'll start by's hilarious! I honestly laughed from start to finish seeing it theatrically. The movie had me rolling in the aisle laughing, I swear! The comic pairing of Farley and Spade is very inspired, as they had some of the best comedic chemistry on the mid-90s era Saturday Night Live. As a pair, they do fight, as friends tend to do, and we believe that they are starting to have better understanding of each other as the movie progresses.

Thematically, the movie's tone is serious, but of course the laughs keep coming. The movie may have a rather paper-thin story, but of course the movie does have something of a maturity angle to it--if not for the events of this movie, Tommy probably would have spent his entire career at Callahan auto simply mooching off his father--and evenutally the company itself. At a time when SNL comedies were a dime a dozen, we know that they can range from classic ("Planes, Trains and Automobiles") to total crap ("It's Pat: the Movie"). It is refreshing to see one that seems to work as consistently well as this movie does--the character interactions, the humor, the seems to come together so well.

Another thing is--I just absolutely LOVE how quotable this movie is! Throughout the 90s, and even today, I can find myself reciting lines of dialogue from this movie to my friends and family and they get a big kick out of it. My little cousins share my love for this movie and we can go at it for hours.

Because of this movie, the phrase "Holy Schnike!" has permanently become part of my lexicon. Up until recently (and I kinda still do), I always spelled it as "Holy Schnikeys!"

Now, I probably should tell you about the characters.

Tommy Callahan, played by Chris Farley, is the titular hero. A ne'er-do-weller that now must pull his act together if he wants to keep his new job, he must survive a weeks-on-end road trip, pratfalls, accidents behind the wheel, getting at his childhood friend's throat and even forces plotting against him. He starts the movie as an immature, unproductive party animal who got his job for no reason other than his dad let him have it, but through loss, experience and lessons about friendship and self-worth he matures to lay claim that he has earned his inheritance. This is true to the aesthetic claim the 1990s adhered to--you don't need power or fame to be a success. Chris Farley has incredible comic timing that helped cement his status as an SNL celebrity, but while never one of the best actors, he probably gives his best performance in this film; and at the same time he has the good nature and generosity characteristic of the Midwestern US. He also establishes that he has heart in this role, something that was missing in movies like "Black Sheep" and "Beverly Hills Ninja".

At the same time, it is also worth noting that the college Tommy graduates from--Marquette University--is Chris Farley's true-to-life alma mater.

Richard Hayden, played by David Spade, is his snarky partner. An overeducated and sarcastic prick at the beginning, he learns to except Tommy for who he is and try to use what he's good at to succeed in their jobs. He's Tommy's road buddy throughout the movie, trying to keep his job from falling to his competitor. You could say he and Tommy follow the comedy roles originally played by Laurel and Hardy--a fat guy and a thin guy, polar opposites yet still having excellent chemistry together. David Spade always seemed to work better as the straight character and while he does have his moments of comedy, Richard has the believeable interaction with Tommy to add weight to the film.

I felt bad for what happens to his car though--they stopped short of blowing it up, but as a result of this road trip it becomes a complete piece of junk!

Michelle Brock, played by Julie Warner, seems to be Tommy and Richard's behind-the-wagon third wheel. Probably seen as the girl Tommy probably had some strong feelings for, she is the character that becomes instrumental in the ruse being done by Tommy's new stepmom and stepbrother. Michelle does less than the boys listed above, but she has her moments.

Paul Barrish (Rob Lowe) is seen as as the movie's villain. He doesn't care if the whole town goes down the drain as long as he gets what he wants. Together with his wife he is trying to sell to Ray Zalinsky. Probably the most profilic actor in this movie, he has certain charm to his performance that makes him stand out. We all probably knew someone like him.

His wife, Beverly (Bo Derek) probably is the weakest character. She married Tommy's dad as part of her scheme to get closer to a big cash score with Paul. Granted her screentime pales compared to Chris Farley and David Spade, but Bo Derek just never was an actress. She doesn't have any sequences worthwhile; she just looked good for the role and probably was hired because she just looked the part necessary. One can sorta wonder though; Tommy's dad is supposed to be a street-savvy businessman and she still tricked him? Maybe it's been a bit since Tommy's birth mom died and he was rusty?


The movie did fine financially, but critically it got mixed reviews. While that is more than can be said for Chris Farley's later films, Roger Ebert only gave the movie one star out of four. However, the movie has, since it's premiere, had incredible lasting value--it's themes and values are still relevant in this day and age and some critics even went so far as to lay claim it has what fans consider a cult classic. How much money did it take in? Given it's popularity among fans, you would think the movie would have immediately made hundreds of millions of dollars. That's not true though--at the box office it only made about $32-35 million. But what counts is the fact if it is released on video, it will sell. If it is on TV, it will gain high ratings. That's where this movie's success lies. On the other hand, there are other movies that at first make $300-$400 million at the box office but no one cares about them. Award-wise, Chris Farley was nominated for an MTV Movie Award for Best Comedic Performance (I even remember the MTV commerical announcing the nominees, which included Chris Tucker ("Friday"), Adam Sandler ("Happy Gilmore") and Alicia Silverstone ("Clueless"), but the Award went to Jim Carrey for his role in "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls"), but he and David Spade actually won one MTV movie award for Best On-Screen Duo. In turn, Bo Derek was nominated for a Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress (it went to Madonna in "Four Rooms").

Now, of course it isn't meant to be a highbrow movie--SNL-inspired films don't try to do that. They aim for comedy and "Tommy Boy" succeeds in spades. No one can deny the impact it has had on Chris Farley's career--it's basically his own Citizen Kane. Of course, with a movie like this there's not really potential for toys or video games and the like, but even if they did I don't imagine the designers would have gone too far (some exceptions aside, movie-based toys don't tend to be that hot).

And yes, I think this movie is best left as just one movie--there never was a sequel and there shouldn't be one. It succeeded in it's job to be a laugh riot, and the characters did all that they set out to achieve. Even if they tried to do a sequel, it would never sell; it would be written off as Canon Discontinuity.

One primary reason being Chris Farley tragically died of an accidental drug overdose back in 1997. If anyone tried to fill the role of Tommy, no one would except it; in fact, I think the public would boycott it. No new actor, not CGI, nothing--that would be like trying to do a new Ernest movie with anyone else in place of Jim Varney. The funeral sequence seems a little heavy considering this movie came out only two years before he died.

The movie was released on VHS late in 1995...

...and in the late 1990s, when DVD was starting to take off, "Tommy Boy" was released on DVD in 1999. It was a bare-bones disc with very little for special features. There was the film itself, languages and subtitles and a theatrical trailer. We can forgive this though, for DVD still had yet to realize its potential.

...But that all changed in 2005. Early in that year, Paramount released a special edition version of the movie called the "Holy Schnike Edition". This is the version that anyone looking for "Tommy Boy" should buy. In addition to the trailer, languages and subtitles, you get a Featurettes of the movie, Deleted Scenes, Alternate Takes, Extended Scenes, TV Spots, a photo gallery and a gag reel and it comes in a humorous little slipcase chronolizing Tommy and Richard's trek to save Callahan Auto.

Not too long ago, David Spade agreed to use the "Fat Guy in a Little Coat" sequence in this movie for a DirecTV ad. Some people thought this was a rather poor taste choice, but I just don't have any opinion on DirecTV so it didn't have much impact on me. David Spade never intended this commercial to be offensive considering he was a friend of Chris Farley and it probably hit him just as hard as his family when he died.

To sum up "Tommy Boy"...this movie is still one of my personal favorite comedies. It has aged very nicely and still proves to be a very funny movie. When it's on TV, it stays there from start to finish--no one will tell you to change the channel. While I still hated hearing of Chris Farley's untimely death two years later, this movie still holds a permanent place in my DVD library. It reminds us all of the Chris Farley we loved seeing and I feel earned it's status as a cult classic.

How was that, Chris?

"Hey! Thanks Trey!"


"OWW!! Son of a---that's gonna leave a mark!"

TreyVore's verdict: See it now!
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