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Paramount Studios presents
Black Sheep (1996)

"Hell, every guy's got his dream, am I right? Between you, me and the wall, I had a doozy myself last night. Get this—a corn-fed harvest mouse, a hooker, a nun, a Flemish peasant woman, whips, chains, whistles, yo-yos, a circus midget, my grandma riding by on a bicycle giving me the finger and a duck. I don't know... Are you crying?"
- Mike Donnelly (Chris Farley)

Review By: Jesse Shanks   
Published: July 29, 2002

Stars: Chris Farley, David Spade, Tim Matheson, Christine Ebersole, Gary Busey
Other Stars: Grant Heslov, Timothy Carhart, Bruce McGill, Michael Patrick Carter
Director: Penelope Spheeris

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for crude language and humor, drug-related material, and sexual innuendo
Run Time: 01h:26m:00s
Release Date: July 16, 2002
UPC: 097363324249
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-B+B D-

DVD Review

There is no doubt that the handful of movies that Chris Farley made following his run on Saturday Night Live are an acquired taste with their healthy doses of scatological humor, political incorrectness and outrageous Farley moments. But likewise, there is no doubt that Black Sheep will deliver up some laughs.

Technically, this is a well-shaped film with a solid script by longtime head writer of Saturday Night Live, Fred Wolf, and crisp direction by Penelope Spheeris. The characters are reasonably well drawn although they do rely, as in most comedies, on well-established stereotypes. The action moves along briskly and very little time is wasted between gags. The comedy bits themselves are a mixed bag that run the gamut from inspired to stinkers, but this film manages to bridge the difficulties of combining a sketch movie with an overall story.

Farley is Mike Donnelly whose brother, political candidate Al Donnelly (Tim Matheson), is seeking the governorship of Washington state. A dimwitted yet lovable scamp, Mike wants nothing more than to help his brother win, but somehow everything he does ends up as a disaster. Handing out fliers at a supermarket, Mike gets his tie caught in the trunk of an elderly couple's car. When they try to leave quickly, thinking him "hopped up on crack," Mike is dragged around the parking lot, behind the car. A high point later is his accidental appearance on the stage at a "Rock the Vote" concert where he fires up the crowd nicely and hilariously.

David Spade, as ambitious political operative Steve Dodds, is Farley's partner in crime in this film and he trades closely on his main Saturday Night Live characters that used a brittle snippishness to drip out sneering putdowns. Appointed by the candidate at first to help his brother "contribute" and finally charged to keep him under wraps, Steve ends up involved in the insidious plans of their incumbent opponent to use the flaws of the younger Donnelly for political gain. Spade teamed with Farley is a comedy duo that manages to draw on elements of many of the classic movie comedy teams of the past. There is a well-rounded aspect of their characterizations that made Spade and Farley more successful in their transitions to post-SNL work than many of their television compatriots.

The acting adds a lot to this film that a lot of "dumb" comedies lack and really separates "good dumb" from "bad dumb." Matheson gives a solid performance in a fairly colorless role as the long-suffering brother. Gary Busey adds his special brand of lunacy as Drake Sabitch, a seemingly crazed veteran living in the wilds of Washington. Christine Ebersole, as the incumbent Governor, is very funny in her thoughtless—yet oh-so-natural—crooked, bigoted and snobby Governor looking to hold onto her office at any cost.

In many cases, I was wanting Black Sheep to go further. There are the slightest elements of political satire with the dirty tricks of the incumbent but this movie could have had so much more interest with more broadsides against the hypocrisy of election politics. Still, there is a little bit of that and perhaps more would have been too ponderous.

In researching this film's reception I noted many very negative reviews, including the claim that Gene Siskel referred to this as the only movie he walked out on in 26 years of movie reviewing. If I could I would note to Gene that he gave thumbs up to many films that were less funny, less interesting and certainly less well-made. Black Sheep is not intended to make any lists of the greatest comedies ever made. On the other hand, it is pretty funny and sometimes, that is enough.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: There is a nice enough quality image transfer on Black Sheep's widescreen presentation that one might say was more than it deserved. Not much damage or distortion to be seen (made me wonder how many times the print was seen in the theater). Crisp and colorful with excellent spectral coverage and detail.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: Fine soundtracks hint that films of the Nineties are your best bet for quality home theater sound. Black Sheep comes with an effective Dolby Digital 5.1, a very good Dolby 2.0 and French Stereo (which is a fun way to watch the antics). A few nicely contrived ambient effects and a very well-defined stereo span made for a solid sound experience.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: No extras to be had, which is very surprising with the list price and the potential availability of materials. Too bad, because a few Farley bits would have added a lot. Probably best to wait a while to buy this one, it seems destined for the bargain bins.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

There are quite a few laughs to be found in Black Sheep, which is one of the few films made by Saturday Night Live funnyman Chris Farley and includes, as his snooty sidekick, David Spade. A well made, if lightweight comedy, Black Sheep showcases the shouting, falling, stumbling comedy that Farley brought to the screen in fine fashion and is definitely a decent addition to the "silly comedy" section of your DVD shelf.


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