Black Sheep

Black Sheep. Paramount Pictures 1996.
Black Sheep. Paramount Pictures 1996.

Before watching the movie:

Chris Farley and David Spade. That’s all I need to know.

Okay, apparently there’s a man running for office and Chris Farley is Rob Ford his misbehaving brother who keeps getting into headlines for all the wrong reasons, dragging the family name though the mud. What comes to mind is Spin City or The Thick of It, but with familial ties instead of political ones.

I guess I should say that from what I have in front of me, I’ve been assuming that Farley and Spade play brothers (which I would buy in the context of such a comedy), but on second thought, Spade is probably the head of the PR team or at least the member personally responsible for keeping Farley’s character in line, because that’s the combination that gives them the most opportunity to play off each other. Spade’s type of character is much more of an image manager than an office-seeker, anyway.

After watching the movie:

Al Donnelly is running for Governor of Washington against the two-term incumbent, and nobody is a bigger supporter of his campaign than his brother Mike. Unfortunately, Mike is rather clumsy and short-sighted, and ruins everything he does, to the delight of Governor Tracy. Al cares about his brother but has a campaign to run, so he assigns Steve Dodds to personally keep Mike out of trouble. When a paparazzo snaps some pictures of Mike apparently sharing beer and cigarettes with a bunch of kids (he was actually giving them a lecture on Saying No To Drugs), Tracy decides her best way to hurt the Donnelly campaign is by getting Mike fired from his job at the community center and attempting to frame him for arson of said center. Al and his campaign manager send Mike and Steve to lay low in a backwoods lodge until after the election, but Mike can still make a mess of things in the sticks.

I felt like I was promised two things with this movie: a Chris Farley and David Spade vehicle, and political spin. The first is definitely there throughout, but I felt like the second was forgotten for a while in the second act, where they took a while to ease off on the plot and set up several sequences of physical comedy that would have felt more at home in a story that was actually about roughing it in a run-down cabin. For a while I was wondering if it really was all about that and the election was just an excuse to get the characters to the middle of nowhere, but then it got back to the candidates and Mike accidentally sabotaging his brother and I realized it had just gone through some show-stopper gags that seriously affected the pacing.

Spade’s dynamic is a little different than what I expected as well. I’m used to him being hypercompetent or at least hyperconfident, but he’s a little more human than I’ve seen him before here, a little more vulnerable. He’s not a spin genius exasperated by Mike’s inability to stick to simple plans or a cocky up and comer irritated with babysitting duty, he’s a regular guy doing his job and finding it more difficult than he expected. A job he volunteered for in hope of a promotion, but a job all the same. It makes Steve’s friendship with Mike a bit more relatable, but less hard-won. Their friendship isn’t part of the stakes here, it just happens. They already told that story in Tommy Boy, I guess they didn’t need to tell it again.

I wanted Spin City meets Saturday Night Live, and that wasn’t what I got, but it hit most of its beats and put Spade and Farley on camera again, which is never a bad thing. I should have realized it would be much more heavily weighted toward slapstick than wit, which isn’t a problem of itself (though I find less patience for sustained slapstick as I get older), it just wasn’t what I had my palate prepared for. I had fun, and if it’s to someone else’s tastes, they’ll have even more fun with this movie.

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