1998, PG-13, 92 min. Directed by Christopher Guest. Starring Matthew Perry, Chris Farley, Eugene Levy.
REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., June 5, 1998
Oh, bitter irony! Christopher Guest, the great satirist of crap artists (he wrote or co-wrote This Is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, and The Big Picture)) has joined their ranks. And he can't even blame it all on the late Chris Farley – though it's certainly hard to imagine many contexts in which the hyperthyroidal leviathan could've been expected to be a net plus. As with many duff comedies, the concept of Almost Heroes is actually pretty sound. It seems that early 19th-century explorers Lewis & Clark weren't the only bold spirits trying to blaze a trail to the virgin sands of the West Coast. Racing them all the way were Hunt & Edwards (Farley and Matthew Perry), a duo fully their equal in all respects save for intelligence, courage, navigational skills, and personal hygiene. Friends veteran Perry looks comfortable (resigned to his lot?) in his role as the starchy, foppish expedition leader. Not surprising since all he has to muster in the way of thespian skills is double takes and bumfuzzled gaping at the antics of Farley and his other half-witted charges. Still, he does the job with workmanlike competence, if no special flair. Farley, having taken Fat, Wild, and Sweaty about as far as humanly possibly in this movie, probably picked the right time to die. As with most scripts by inexperienced comedy writers (a no-name trio is credited here), the humor is relentlessly gag-oriented. Some of the jokes creep in under the threshold of pothead passability, but most are so jejune they wouldn't draw a titter in a junior high detention hall. Need a more specific characterization of Almost Heroes' humor? Well, imagine a triangulation among the witless scatology of recent Mel Brooks, the intermittently engaging whimsy of Chris Elliott, and the chin-stroking out-thereness of the Miller Lite “Dick” commercials. That's about the best I can do, unless it helps to tell you that the two funniest gags involve a guy who talks into a severed ear and a backwater bordello full of straw-stuffed love dolls. We can only speculate why Guest chose to whiz away his hard-won credibility by directing this irredeemable piece of crap. Some oath of perpetual fealty to all SNL brethren past and present? If that's the case, then surviving alums Guest, Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers, et al. must be silently, guiltily mouthing thanks to the drug dealer who sold big Chris that last, fateful 8-ball. Call me needlessly cruel if you like, but I believe the amount of time, money, and creative capital Hollywood is pouring into unapologetically wretched knockoffs like Almost Heroes justifies – compels – the full-nuclear critical response. To adapt the phraseology of yet another recently departed American Gonzo Original, “Extremism in the defense of good comedy is no vice.”