Rated PG-13 - Running time: 1:26 - Released 5/29/98

The passing of Chris Farley is indeed a tragedy, not only because we have lost such an energetic, no-holds-barred comedian, but also because his death (and, to an extent, his life) was so similar to that of his idol, John Belushi, that it was almost a self-mockery. It would also be a tragedy if his last feature film were as lame as some of his previous movies. So I went to this one holding my breath, hoping that it would be a fitting tribute to the man — if not a masterpiece, then at least funny. And I'm glad to say it is that. Farley may not have expected this to be his last appearance, and indeed I have read that he had hoped to play drama someday, but in Almost Heroes, director Christopher Guest got the best of him. It's clear, his death notwithstanding, that Farley is the funniest thing about this silly piece of celluloid.

With great overtones of Mel Brooks and Monty Python, this film tells the story of two explorers, Leslie Edwards (Friends's Matthew Perry) and Bartholomew Hunt (Farley), who tried in the early part of the 19th century to be the first to reach the Pacific Ocean via the Northwest Passage. Although we know that famous voyage was actually made by Lewis and Clark, this is the tale of their competition, a ragtag group of misfits with various mental and physical problems, headed by a conceited fame-seeker and his trailwise but boorish partner.

As expected, there is little here but sight gags and low humor, but if you're in the mood (and I must have been), it has its laugh-out-loud moments. There is no escaping that Farley was funny at almost everything he did; much like Jim Carrey, his energy is so pervasive that if you gave him a phone book to read, he could make you laugh. As long as you were not too worried that he would have a coronary. Perry also has a few good bits, but he is obviously a distant second banana. Additional appearances by people like Eugene Levy and Kevin Dunn, and others, add to the hilarity, although many of the jokes fall flat. Even Farley has a few misfires, but not many.

Along the way the guys run into many ridiculous predicaments, like inadvertently riding their little two-man canoe over a huge waterfall, and getting in a serious grudge match with an American bald eagle. And always just ahead of them is the party of Meriwether Lewis and Wilford Clark, threatening to make our heroes a mere footnote to history.

Written by Mark Nutter, Tom Wolfe, and Boyd Hale, the screenplay implies that Edwards and Hunt actually beat the famous pair, a rather bold rewriting of history, but no one expects a script like this to be historically accurate. The PG-13 rating is mainly because of some mildly foul language, sexual innuendo, and generally grotesque humor. What little violence there is, is of the cartoon variety.

I doubt if anyone ever expected Chris Farley to win an Academy Award. But it is a fitting tribute to him that his last outing, while not a great work of American cinema, can provide a good dose of chuckles, and more than a few belly laughs. ***

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

See Current Reviews

See FilmQuips Archive