From Fatty Arbuckle and Oliver Hardy to John Candy, hefty guys have always gotten big laughs on the screen, and when Hardy was teamed with spindly Stan Laurel, they became comedy legends. The rowdy, rambunctious, sweet-natured "Tommy Boy" suggests we may have a worthy successor to Candy in massive, jowly Chris Farley, who is especially funny when he's playing off diminutive David Spade, with whom he was first teamed on "Saturday Night Live." Farley reminds us just how liberating an agile, uninhibited, out-sized comedian can be in these times of caloric restraint.
Farley's happy-go-lucky Tommy Callahan has, after seven years, managed to graduate from Marquette and head home for Sandusky, Ohio, to join the family auto-parts manufacturing firm run by his hearty dad, Big Tom (Brian Dennehy). Considerably less than thrilled to see him is Spade's Richard Hayden--an homage, perhaps, to the late, fastidious comedian of the same name. Richard is Big Tom's right-hand man, and keeping an eye on Tommy has now been added to his duties. Nevertheless, Tommy and Richard swiftly wind up on the road, having to sell half-a-million brake pads in order to save Callahan Auto Parts in the face of an unanticipated catastrophe.
Writers Bonnie and Terry Turner show plenty of skill in developing Tommy and Richard and their relationship. They indelibly identify Tommy as a guy who insists that the first name of the Hancock who signed the Declaration of Independence is Herbie. However, in the Turners' smart writing and Peter Segal's zesty, shrewd direction, and above all, in Spade's playing in the film's pivotal scene, Richard convinces us--and Tommy himself--that Tommy's not really as dumb as he seems but rather that, having been indulged all his life, he just has never bothered to grow up. Then it's up to Farley to convince us that Tommy, like his late father, actually has the street smarts Richard insists he has. Tommy, in turn, has taken the starch out of Richard to the extent that we remember he's a young man after all.
One of the movie's many uproarious moments occurs when Tommy struggles to change clothes in a tiny airplane restroom. Farley and Spade take off like rockets, but they've got backing all the way from a terrific ensemble of actors, including Bo Derek as Tommy's not-so-nice new stepmother, Rob Lowe as the sarcastic "son," Dan Aykroyd as Big Tom's smarmy business rival and Julie Warner as the pretty, smart manager of Callahan's shipping department. "Tommy Boy" also knows when to get serious, and composer David Warner deftly keys the film's wide-ranging moods. "Tommy Boy" is a good belly laugh of a movie.
* MPAA rating: PG-13, for sex-related humor, some drug content and nudity. Times guidelines: These elements are fairly mild, and the film's earthy humor is not likely to offend most people.
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'Tommy Boy' Chris Farley: Tommy Callahan David Spade: Richard Hayden Brian Dennehy: Big Tom Callahan Bo Derek: Beverly Rob Lowe: Paul Dan Aykroyd: Zalinsky Julie Warner: Michelle A Paramount presentation. Director Peter Segal. Producer Lorne Michaels. Executive producer Robert K. Weiss. Screenplay by Bonnie Turner & Terry Turner. Cinematographer Victor J. Kemper. Editor William Kerr. Costumes Patti Unger. Music David Newman. Production designer Stephen J. Lineweaver. Art director Alicia Keywan. Set designer Dennis Davenport. Set decorator Gordon Sim. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.