Black Sheep

(Penelope Spheeris, USA, 1996)


Since Dumb and Dumber (1995), every film which emphasises vulgar behaviour, base bodily functions and raucous burlesque is instantly labelled a stupid comedy – although the more stable generic label seems to be trash comedy.

Black Sheep certainly fits this bill, with its lovingly staged jokes about urination, property destruction and general, discombobulated idiocy.

But Black Sheep is more than a simple re-tread of Dumb and Dumber. This tale of Mike (Chris Farley), and the constant embarrassment he causes to the political campaign of his brother Al (Tim Matheson), reflects a keen understanding of American populism. This is especially evident whenever Mike’s reluctant minder Steve (David Spade) tangles with all manner of rough but supposedly authentic local crazies.

Director Penelope Spheeris (Suburbia [1983]) is a cult figure among discerning film buffs. Since Wayne’s World (1992), however, her career has hit a monotonous and not entirely happy groove.

Perhaps as a defiant gesture against being typed as an exclusively light-comic director, the best and most liberating moments of Black Sheep emerge when Spheeris can indulge her penchant for tough, black, violent humour – including a hilarious, foul-mouthed cameo from her own mother.

MORE Spheeris: Dudes

© Adrian Martin July 1996

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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