Has there ever been a fat-guy comic more willing to look like a complete sweat-hog mess than Chris Farley? When you see him on Saturday Night Live, his La-Z-Boy grossness-the tiny eyes and anvil head, the gut dripping in layers over his pants-is so unpretty it’s almost painful, and, indeed, his tubby dishevelment might be too much to take were it not for the energy he pours into his routines. A mastodon in a china shop, he’s a far wilder physical comedian than, say, John Belushi, who looked (and moved) like a gymnast by comparison. Farley, with his twisting torso and insanely emphatic vocal rhythms, harks back to that speedball hippo Curly of the Three Stooges.
Farley’s specialty, like Curly’s, is splenetic frustration-a perpetually stymied will that erupts in displays of comically impotent rage. In TOMMY BOY (Paramount, PG-13), he keeps getting plonked in the face by large, heavy objects. There’s nothing very funny about the gag-until you get to Farley’s reaction, which is so angry, so naked in its God-I- can’t-believe-I-did-that-again self-hatred, that I chuckled every time.
By any reasonable standard, Tommy Boy is stupid, disreputable junk. Just when you thought you’d erased the memory of Adam Sandler in Billy Madison playing a slobbo idiot who must prove that he’s worthy of taking over his father’s business, along comes Farley playing a slobbo idiot who must prove that he’s worthy of taking over his father’s business. Most of the comedy is devoted to the hapless spectacle of Farley on the road with his corporate overseer, David Spade (the nasty elf), as the two try to hawk auto-parts contracts. Yet Tommy Boy, unlike Sandler’s fiasco, does at least have a few laughs. When Farley smashes and sets fire to a model car on a prospective customer’s desk, the sheer extreme to which he pushes his hyperactive jerkiness lends the scene a ripsnorting charge. Still, the film left me wishing I’d never have to see anything quite like it again. In Tommy Boy, ”rebellion” has come down to acting like a manic incompetent; life is one big animal house.