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Almost Heroes

Review: 'Almost Heroes' is almost worthless

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- Don't get me wrong, here. I'm not complaining about my current occupation, mostly because I once worked in a hellishly temperate chemical factory (in the middle of summer) back home in Alabama. But if you think what I do is easy, you oughta sit down and try to write a review of a movie like "Almost Heroes," which stars the late, alarmingly fat Chris Farley, and Matthew Perry of "Friends" fame.

Not that it's astrophysics, but when I'm reviewing a picture, I try to keep my mind focused on several different aspects of the production all at once -- plot, rhythm, dialogue, camera work, thematic complexity, performances, etc. But sometimes (or maybe I should say "very often") I'm stuck sitting through a movie that cries out not for something more, but for something less. Trying too hard to get to the bottom of it is more ridiculous than "enjoying" it without question.

Think about it. Is a Chris Farley movie really liable to display a nifty touch in the storytelling department? Is it really worth the trouble to comment on the rhythm of a scene when it consists mostly of Farley soulfully sniffing a huge patty of manure or lecherously watching a couple of pigs copulate? Is it worth focusing on dialogue that's purposefully beyond stupid, with more than a few gags focusing on, well, here it comes again, manure? Is Farley's sweating profusely, mussing up his hair, and violently pounding himself in the head with his own hands the same thing as acting?

Of course it isn't, but I've still got to write something about it. Now, I'm honestly sorry that Farley died, and whenever somebody passes away that young it's a real tragedy, but I just have to point out that the guy was hardly rewriting the comic textbook to the advanced degree that people wanted to pretend he was shortly after he left us. Nobody was calling him a genius while he was alive, and, unfortunately, for a very good reason.

Not even 'Tommy Boy'

I mean, this thing, and Farley's hugely annoying performance at the center of it, is awful. Bad awful. It's not even "Tommy Boy," for God's sake, and that's an industrial strength "not even" if ever there was one.

The movie wants to be another "Blazing Saddles" -- or at least that's what I started hoping it would be -- and I'm not even all that crazy about "Blazing Saddles." I would have settled for something as sophisticated as farting around the campfire if I had to. But this one has Farley, not farting, so you have to allow for a lot of screaming and flailing arms instead. When in doubt, throw a fit.

Farley, as a sort of slobbish Daniel Boone character, joins forces with Perry, playing a foppish, glory-seeking "explorer" who's trying to lead an expedition to the Pacific Ocean before Lewis and Clark get there. Lewis and Clark had a two-week headstart, so our "almost heroes" have to figure out how to make up for lost time. They decide to paddle up-river, against the current, to accomplish this. Because they're dumb. I'm tellin' ya, if they weren't dumb, they wouldn't have done that. Man, that was dumb.

Scenes from "Almost Heroes:"

Clip: "We Come in Peace"
2.7Mb QuickTime movie

Entire trailer
6.5Mb QuickTime movie

Dumbness abounds

All of the guys on the expedition are dumb, and they say and do dumb things in dumb ways, dumbly. One of them continually plays the bagpipes, but only knows one tune. Because he's dumb. Another one relates a story about how he jokingly ate some (you guessed it) manure. That was dumb. Another one (played by Eugene Levy, who wins a fruit basket for making me snicker twice) has a gorgeous American Indian woman along with him, and has threatened to cut the throat of anyone who looks at her. Of course everyone, especially Perry, wants to look at her all the time, and, just as of course, violent jealousy ensues. Dumb violent jealousy.

There are several jokes about wild animal attacks, and, wouldn't you know it, a big bear lumbers into camp when everyone's asleep. The whole thing is so laborious, I felt like I might cry after a while. Perry, quite surprisingly, is just as bad as Farley, but not as aggressively so. He adopts an upper-class accent that just doesn't work, and (though it's not his fault) there are odd silent stretches after Farley does something particularly idiotic, so that Perry can make faces. These passages are supposed to be filled with audience laughter, but all I was hearing was the "Jurassic Park" video game in the theater's lobby, a siren song that, alas, had to be ignored.

Still, though, it beats packing nickel nitrate into 100-pound drums.

"Almost Heroes" contains raw humor, partial nudity, and little else, except maybe costumes. This was directed by Christopher Guest, a fact that I couldn't start to explain. 87 minutes. Rated PG-13.

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