Tommy Boy came out 20 years ago tomorrow, during my childhood’s peak impressionability. Between that perfect timing and the fact that it always seemed to be on cable, I’ll always secretly believe it’s one of the greatest movies ever made. Which is why it’s so shocking to read reviews written by critics at the time, most of whom hated it. Ugh, adults were so lame back then, you guys.
Critics objected to a whole host of things. Almost to a person they singled out the running gag about messing up David Spade’s car. They hated the plot, which they interpreted as a rip-off of Wayne’s World and Billy Madison. They saw it as a celebration of stupidity, they hated that there were genuine moments alongside broad slapstick, they hated that Rob Lowe hooked up with Bo Derek and it was gross – but most of all, and most unfairly, they hated that Spade and Farley weren’t Aykroyd and Belushi. As San Francisco Examiner critic Walter Addiego wrote, “There’s a frat-house scene that clearly winks at John Belushi,” even though the scene in question is set at the rugby house at Marquette, which was based on… you guessed it, Chris Farley, who had played rugby at Marquette (fun fact, “Matt Foley” was an old teammate of Farley’s, who later became a priest).
Reading these, part of me does wonder if, 20 years from now, some pissed off pre-millennial (probably named Adler or Brayleigh or Huntington) will be taking me to task for not understanding the genius of Paul Blart. Which looks to my old eyes like a ransom note (Kevin James stars in Paul Blart 2: Please Don’t Hurt My Family). But for now, I’m just going to savor this retrospective of old farts not getting what we understood intuitively.
1. Roger Ebert
“Tommy Boy” is one of those movies that plays like an explosion down at the screenplay factory. You can almost picture a bewildered office boy, his face smudged with soot, wandering through the ruins and rescuing pages at random. Too bad they didn’t mail them to the insurance company instead of filming them. […]
No one is funny in “Tommy Boy.” There are no memorable lines. None of the characters is interesting except for the enigmatic figure played by Rob Lowe, who seems to have wandered over from “Hamlet.”
2. Brian Lowry, Variety
Stupid is apparently in, so Paramount stands a good chance of attracting a solid share of the low-I.Q. demographic with this latest “Saturday Night Live”-derived comedy. –
3. Caryn James, New York Times
…the very poor cousin of a dopey Jim Carrey movie… As mismatched-buddy teams go, Felix and Oscar have nothing to worry about here. …a blunt reminder of all the recent criticism “Saturday Night Live” has taken for having descended from its glory days into comedy limbo.
4. Desson Howe, Washington Post
“Tommy Boy” roots like an uninspired hog through the old swill of other, more successful movies.
5. Owen Glieberman, Entertainment Weekly
By any reasonable standard, Tommy Boy is stupid, disreputable junk.
6. Marjorie Baumgarten, Austin Chronicle
This Tommy Boy is no pinball wizard, but you may leave the theatre wishing that the character were at least deaf, dumb, and blind. –
This also belongs in another piece, “Hot Takes Of Yesteryear.”
7. Chris Hicks, Deseret News
While these guys have comic talent, they need to tone it down for the big screen.