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MOVIE REVIEW : High Energy Drives a Raucous 'Black Sheep'


When the governor of Washington, running for reelection in the raucous and rowdy "Black Sheep," remarks gleefully of her opponent's younger brother that he's "Roger Clinton, Billy Carter and the entire Reagan family rolled into one," she's right on the mark. The campaign, a close race, is entering its final days when the governor's opponent, clean-cut, affable Al Donnelly (Tim Matheson), returns to his hometown.

You can see right away why he's put it off: His big, beefy kid brother Mike (Chris Farley) has a heart of gold and is great with cars and youngsters--he coaches football at the community recreation center he runs. But he's a terrible klutz, and while not stupid, he'll say anything that pops into his head and always barrels ahead without judgment in anything he does.

He's as eager as a puppy to help out Al, but he's such an immediate and constant embarrassment that Al turns him over to a special handler, the luckless Steve (David Spade), who soon is whisking him off to a wilderness cabin for the duration of the campaign. Harnessing a force of nature like Mike, however, is about as easy as harnessing Niagara Falls.

While "Black Sheep" isn't as consistently funny as the Farley-Spade debut feature, "Tommy Boy," it's a crowd-pleaser directed with maximum energy and panache by Penelope Spheeris, who's just the person you need to make material funnier than it really is. "Tommy Boy," which had Farley inheriting an auto parts factory about to go under and Spade as his tremendously reluctant caretaker, had more substance and a tension that derived from Spade moving gradually from contempt to affection for Farley.

This time out, Spade hasn't nearly as much chance to evolve yet comes through as the splendid straight man that he is. Writer Fred Wolf has plenty of ingenuity in thinking up jokes and scrapes for Mike to get into, but just as he's underwritten Spade's role--and also that of Gary Busey as a manic Vietnam vet turned survivalist--he doesn't give us a clue as to what's at stake in the gubernatorial race. We're not sure why it should matter whether Al or the governor (Christine Ebersole) wins; we only know that Al's a nice guy and the governor hides a ruthless ambitiousness behind a phony smile.

"Black Sheep" works as well as it does because the anarchic, high-energy spirits of Farley and Spheeris lock into each other perfectly. The movie really kicks in when Mike, stoned to the gills, leads a rock 'n' roll concert audience in a rousing rally for Al only--and inevitably--to blow it with a deliciously awful slip of the tongue. Scenes like this leave you hoping that Spheeris will have the chance to work with Farley and Spade again.

* MPAA rating: PG-13, for crude language and humor, drug-related material and sexual innuendo. Times guidelines: The film's language is sufficiently crude that parents may want to exercise discretion in regard to small children.


'Black Sheep'

Chris Farley: Mike Donnelly

David Spade: Steve Dodds

Tim Matheson: Al Donnelly

Christine Ebersole: Governor Tracy

Gary Busey: Drake Sabitch

A Paramount presentation. Director Penelope Spheeris. Producer Lorne Michaels. Executive producers Robert K. Weiss, C.O. Erickson. Screenplay by Fred Wolf. Cinematographer Daryn Okada. Editor Ros Albert. Costumes Jill Ohanneson. Music William Ross. Production designer Peter Jamison. Art director Chris Cornwell. Set decorator Linda Spheeris. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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