News

Holy Schnikes! Tommy Boy is Still Hilarious 25 Years Later

We look back at the late, great Chris Farley's first — and best — starring role and why it still makes us laugh to this day.

by | March 31, 2020 | Comments


Near the end of Adam Sandler’s 100% Fresh — we see what you did there — he plays a musical tribute to Chris Farley. The Springsteen-esque song features gentle guitar strums and heartfelt thoughts on Sandler’s former SNL castmate, and as he sings, classic clips from the late, great comedian play in the background. It’s emotional, especially because it comes from a guy whose comedy is often synonymous with silly, sophomoric humor, and after it’s over, Sandler tells the audience, “He was by far the funniest f—ing guy of all time.” Farley was that funny — anyone who’s seen him as the hyper stress-fest that is motivational speaker Matt Foley or as the bumbling host of “The Chris Farley Show” would have a hard time dismissing that outright. He could be insanely loud and in-your-face one moment, a sort of one-man comedy tornado, and weirdly sweet and empathetic the next. He lit up whatever he was in.

But could what made Farley such a tour de force on SNL translate onto the big screen, especially in a starring role and especially amid all those big-budget movie trappings: sweeping crane shots, a ceaseless score, and by-the-numbers plotting? That was the question Tommy Boy — released 25 years ago on March 31, 1995 — would answer. The first in Farley’s Movie Star canon is a road comedy, chronicling spoiled man-child Tommy (Farley) and his uptight dry-wit of a minder, Richard (David Spade), as they try to save Tommy’s family business. At the time, critical reception was lukewarm-to-cold (it sits at 42% on the Tomatometer), with Variety scoffing that “stupid is apparently in” and The Independent branding it “a comedy that might be a hoot after several beers but is otherwise best avoided.” Yet the same qualities those reviews slung as insults were exactly what moviegoers of a certain age were looking for in a film: decidedly dumb, preferably watched late at night with friends, and packed with lots of quotable lines. Here’s why Tommy Boy still holds up after all these years.


IT PROVED CHRIS FARLEY COULD CARRY HIS OWN MOVIE

As implied above, Farley may have owned his skits more than anyone else to grace the stage at SNL. He also proved — both before and after Tommy Boy — incredible in small parts on the big screen, most notably as the sad-sack bus driver in Billy Madison and the barfly with a bitten-off nose in Dirty Work. In the lead of a feature, though, you could understand the skepticism: Would the joke run thin? Would this character make any sense for an entire 90 minutes? Somehow, all of his larger-than-lifeness works in Tommy Boy. It’s his best starring role (Black Sheep, Beverly Hills Ninja, and Almost Heroes aren’t exactly stiff competition, but still), one that leaves you watching to see what Tommy will stumble into next as opposed to waiting out a series of high-energy pratfalls.


FARLEY AND DAVID SPADE HAVE UNDENIABLE COMIC CHEMISTRY

Chris Farley and David Spade on the Tommy Boy poster

(Photo by ©Paramount Pictures courtesy Everett Collection)

Another reason Farley works so well as a lead here? Spade, the cynical ying to Farley’s trusting, airheaded yang. The pair fits nicely in a long line of comedy duos, both classic (Laurel and Hardy stand out, not only because of the disparity in body sizes) and more modern (Jake and Elwood in The Blues Brothers, John Candy and Steve Martin in Planes, Trains & Automobiles). Tommy Boy lifts from that latter movie’s playbook, actually: There’s the never-ending road trip with polar opposites and the destruction of their car (complete with a double take when it’s demolished). There seemed to be more than a bit of life-imitating-art going on as well. (Or was it viceversa?) As one of the film’s writers put it in a making-of doc, the two were a sort of IRL Odd Couple, with Spade often throwing sarcastic jabs at Farley, promoting immediate bursts of laughter, when the cameras weren’t rolling.


IT’S ENDLESSLY QUOTABLE

Many of the moments that land in Tommy Boy come from that same off-the-cuff, we’d-be-joking-with-each-other-regardless spirit. Take this exchange, a version of which was allegedly overheard between Spade and Farley and then added to the script:

“Hey, does this suit make me look fat?”

“No, no, no. Your face does.”

Perhaps the movie’s most memorable scene, too, came from someone on set noticing that, after shooting the “fat guy in a little coat” bit, Farley started singing the dialogue. They thought it was so funny they decided to reshoot it, and it’s hard to imagine it working nearly as well without Farley’s sing-songy delivery. There are too many good quotes from Farley to list here — besides, many of them have been recited ad nauseum in college dorm rooms over the last two-plus decades — but let’s spotlight these doozies: “Brothers don’t shake hands. Brothers gotta hug,” and “John Hancock… It’s Herbie Hancock.”


DAN AYKROYD CRANKS IT UP TO 11

Dan Aykroyd in Tommy Boy

(Photo by ©Paramount Pictures)

A few of the minor characters fall flat in this movie — as Tommy’s new stepmom, Bo Derek was even nominated for a Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress — but one in particular is memorable above all the others. As auto magnate Ray Zalinsky, Dan Aykroyd leans on his stereotype-on-steroids Chicago accent as he says lines like,““I make car parts for the American working man, because that’s what I am, and that’s who I care about.” Ostensibly one of the villains of the film, Zalinsky is part Bass-O-Matic motor-mouthed salesman, with every spat-out pronouncement delivered with such a punch that it makes his turn as Elwood in The Blues Brothers look subtle in comparison. It’s ridiculous — and a joy to watch.


FARLEY’S SWEETNESS IS ON DISPLAY

Brian Dennehy and Chris Farley in Tommy Boy

(Photo by ©Paramount Pictures courtesy Everett Collection)

If Tommy was just an imbecile running into things — and, to be fair, that might be his defining characteristic — it wouldn’t give one much reason to watch this movie, let alone return to it. But there’s a lot of love in Farley’s take on a spoiled know-nothing. He wants everybody to like each other and get along, and even the few moments that touch on loss oddly ring true in Farley’s hands. It’s the same trick he pulled off so brilliantly on SNL’s “The Chris Farley Show,” the ability to end a flubbed interview with Paul McCartney with an “aww”-inducing moment of connection. We may never know what other moments like that he had in him, but at least we have films like Tommy Boy to remind us what he was capable of.


Where You Can Watch It Now

Amazon (rent/own)FandangoNOW (rent/own)Google (rent/own)iTunes (rent/own)Vudu (rent/own)


Tommy Boy was released on March 31, 1995.

#1

Tommy Boy (1995)
42%

#1
Adjusted Score: 43749%
Critics Consensus: Though it benefits from the comic charms of its two leads, Tommy Boy too often feels like a familiar sketch stretched thin.
Synopsis: After his beloved father (Brian Dennehy) dies, dimwitted Tommy Callahan (Chris Farley) inherits a near-bankrupt automobile parts factory in Sandusky,... [More]
Directed By: Peter Segal

Tag Cloud

indiana jones pirates of the caribbean diversity Tubi Netflix cooking name the review obituary asian-american Oscars disaster television Black Mirror independent FXX Wes Anderson crime thriller dexter TV renewals Disney Plus Photos Pixar legend award winner spanish rt labs critics edition animated Universal Pictures Trailer Amazon sequels free movies 007 Cannes 2018 cancelled TV shows Crackle revenge book 2015 ITV thriller comic a nightmare on elm street foreign biopic video Comics on TV Amazon Studios unscripted Cartoon Network satire canceled international comic book movies football See It Skip It VH1 Classic Film Disney Captain marvel Hear Us Out posters Showtime TCA First Reviews Mary Tyler Moore docuseries aliens italian kong Apple werewolf Syfy A&E TLC CMT saw TNT Sundance Paramount Plus Red Carpet Acorn TV police drama Awards Tour APB children's TV debate boxing action-comedy Travel Channel Academy Awards Sundance TV game of thrones scene in color Alien First Look olympics Comic Book New York Comic Con hispanic heritage month Britbox critics king arthur live action green book streaming sopranos The CW worst new york nbcuniversal crossover Pirates 72 Emmy Awards Box Office Disney Channel superman DirecTV rotten movies we love Lionsgate Nickelodeon new zealand AMC Polls and Games Peacock Premiere Dates NBC DC Comics Reality Superheroe french latino technology composers sag awards book adaptation FX on Hulu Netflix Christmas movies dreamworks Pacific Islander Endgame zombie Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Hallmark Broadway VOD FOX stand-up comedy wonder woman fresh Election Countdown Fall TV Emmys ratings critic resources adenture Musicals screen actors guild witnail kaiju crime drama strong female leads spider-man slashers Sundance Now Dark Horse Comics Ellie Kemper Horror HBO Go TV WarnerMedia golden globes Hulu spinoff Tarantino Funimation DC Universe new star wars movies miniseries jurassic park History FX chucky YouTube MCU DGA WGN Discovery Channel Marathons AMC Plus Awards TBS worst movies casting canceled TV shows mob fast and furious series Adult Swim social media DC streaming service TV One Mystery Women's History Month archives popular genre godzilla RT History best Mary poppins sitcom Tumblr 2021 scary 2017 laika elevated horror Calendar directors cancelled TV series universal monsters TCA 2017 The Walt Disney Company ID Instagram Live 73rd Emmy Awards festivals mission: impossible 45 Turner Nat Geo Exclusive Video mcc richard e. Grant Certified Fresh doctor who Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt parents video on demand Song of Ice and Fire films Biopics Logo YouTube Premium natural history facebook movie theme song blockbusters comic books Turner Classic Movies Set visit LGBTQ reviews deadpool ghosts Amazon Prime Anna Paquin Quiz Pet Sematary Holiday Reality Competition LGBT romance twilight Schedule streaming movies news cults indie dc Music Television Critics Association Trophy Talk Stephen King joker Arrowverse emmy awards Animation child's play Fox Searchlight Pop Action spy thriller TCA Winter 2020 talk show documentaries SXSW Drama NYCC spider-verse lord of the rings PlayStation comic book movie VICE aapi TCM Walt Disney Pictures Sneak Peek CW Seed slasher Lifetime Christmas movies ViacomCBS australia Film hist robots medical drama Paramount sequel zero dark thirty hollywood 1990s Writers Guild of America comedies space Image Comics Spectrum Originals El Rey what to watch Christmas Disney+ Disney Plus stop motion black comedy Rom-Com SundanceTV Podcast Toys President screenings Star Trek rt labs tv talk Pop TV trailers Lifetime Star Wars nature venice live event 71st Emmy Awards dragons Year in Review BBC One GoT TCA Awards USA IMDb TV PaleyFest Epix festival E3 BET Awards docudrama Opinion marvel comics renewed TV shows nfl 2020 batman quibi true crime Television Academy 4/20 Tokyo Olympics USA Network jamie lee curtis The Arrangement science fiction Paramount Network Hallmark Christmas movies Black History Month 21st Century Fox marvel cinematic universe Sci-Fi Food Network blockbuster feel good Marvel kids south america versus rom-coms serial killer 2016 24 frames YA black breaking bad war biography anime GIFs Warner Bros. scorecard Best and Worst NBA women Lucasfilm crime Mudbound game show politics CBS Brie Larson superhero suspense Pride Month vampires spain Shudder monster movies period drama Country art house blaxploitation teaser 2019 Comedy Binge Guide psychological thriller remakes BBC America MSNBC Freeform target sports Mindy Kaling Holidays Marvel Studios Vudu Baby Yoda Mary Poppins Returns cats Teen movies 20th Century Fox Elton John MTV Ghostbusters halloween Superheroes royal family franchise documentary ABC young adult RT21 james bond Fox News TV movies cancelled television Apple TV+ criterion harry potter National Geographic historical drama Video Games mockumentary Thanksgiving Emmy Nominations SDCC OneApp dramedy Esquire E! stoner Trivia concert Neflix The Witch rt archives boxoffice Film Festival Valentine's Day Masterpiece spanish language The Walking Dead Infographic Sony Pictures know your critic cartoon Chernobyl Heroines Spring TV X-Men Avengers Spike toronto scary movies comiccon political drama razzies Rocketman American Society of Cinematographers justice league hispanic BET Summer Legendary dogs 93rd Oscars Apple TV Plus Comedy Central basketball Grammys The Purge 90s CBS All Access dceu Musical ABC Signature Martial Arts adventure Family Super Bowl mutant Nominations Bravo hidden camera rotten discovery IFC Films Tomatazos gangster Cosplay Western cinemax finale japan PBS singing competition A24 ESPN king kong vs. golden globe awards Rock reboot comics all-time HBO Crunchyroll cops high school OWN Amazon Prime Video cars Marvel Television zombies IFC toy story Comic-Con@Home 2021 Extras Fantasy psycho Ovation telelvision Winners 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards The Academy TV Land 99% anthology HBO Max BAFTA Winter TV TIFF cancelled Rocky travel Disney streaming service BBC classics halloween tv Watching Series heist movie GLAAD christmas movies TruTV YouTube Red dark prank Kids & Family japanese based on movie San Diego Comic-Con binge romantic comedy Shondaland Character Guide die hard transformers Starz CNN Columbia Pictures supernatural adaptation Creative Arts Emmys ABC Family Universal Interview