Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Almost Heroes.”
The Movie: “Almost Heroes”
Starring: Chris Farley, Matthew Perry, Eugene Levy
Director: Christopher Guest
Plot Summary: (From Rotten Tomatoes) A group of misfits explorers in 1804 lead a bumbling, ill-fated expedition in an attempt to reach the Pacific Ocean before Lewis and Clark.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 8 percent
Brown: I think it’s time the JOE-DOWN went on a journey.
Between last week’s look into a Saturday of detention with “The Breakfast Club” and a pending polar vortex sheltering us Minnesotans for the next week as our state becomes Hoth, I wanted to explore… without leaving the warmth of my apartment.
So, let’s relive the days of discovery and Manifest Destiny with “Almost Heroes.”
In all honesty, this is kind of a somber pick for me. I love Chris Farley’s work. As an awkward big guy myself, Farley struck a chord with me when I was a teen and it still sticks with me now. Hell, I remember doing the Matt Foley skit from “SNL” in a social studies class in high school.
“Almost Heroes,” unfortunately, has the distinction of being Farley’s last major role before his death via drug overdose.
And… he has to carry Chandler from “Friends” in this. So, you know, probably not the best way to go out.
Froemming, give us some an initial thought while I go hunt for some eagle eggs.
Froemming: I, too, loved Chris Farley’s comedic genius growing up. He was part of an SNL cast that blew up and branched out with some of the best, most absurd films that I still enjoy today: Adam Sandler with “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore;” Farley and David Spade with “Tommy Boy” and “Black Sheep;” Norm Macdonald with “Dirty Work” and so on.
But among that brilliance was also a lot of (REDACTED). And unfortunately, “Almost Heroes” — despite having a solid cast (minus Matthew “Speedball” Perry, I call him that because I think he killed Chris Farley) and Christopher (REDACTED) Guest directing — falls into the (REDACTED) sandwich of these films.
While I try try to burn the memory of Matthew Perry from my brain, why don’t you start this off?
Brown: So right away, the credits roll with a bunch of images of old-time America. Not the one Trump is trying to bring us back to, rather the day of the settlers. I kept thinking there would be a bunch of inappropriate murals of Native Americans being slaughtered like the murals in Pawnee City Hall.
Also, Froemming, between the murals in the credits and the voiceover from Principal Skinner himself, Harry Shearer, did you do a double-take like myself and check to make sure we didn’t pick a Ken Burns documentary?
In this voiceover, Skinner mentioned that while Lewis and Clark were the ones that got the credit for charting America and reaching the west coast, the other explorer duo of Leslie Edwards (Perry) and Bartholomew Hunt (Farley) have been lost to history. I will say, I want to purchase the portrait they made for Farley’s character.
But the story looks like it’s on the verge of ending before it begins as Hunt is being sent to the gallows for basically drunk and disorderly conduct.
Froemming, if this were law today, our lives would have ended after any given post-Chronicle night in college.
Froemming: I would totally frame that portrait of Farley in my home, and burn Matthew “Speedball” Perry’s to the pits of Hell, where he truly belongs.
I have a lot of issues with this movie — including my theory that old “Speedball” murdered the brilliant Chris Farley with his terrible performance in this — but the one positive thing I can say is Farley is funny in this. Like, really funny. As he is about to be hanged, Leslie Edwards shows up with a stay of execution from Thomas Jefferson, the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence which demanded America’s freedom from the Crown while also owning slaves.
And he bumps into Hunt, knocking him off the stool causing him to struggle for his life. This was a legit funny moment because Farley hams it up.
Perry, on the other hand, is about as entertaining as a wet blanket. You told me before I watched this that he pretty much phones it in with this movie, and boy were you correct. Not only did he more than likely kill Chris Farley with his humorless performance here, he also made Chris Farley’s last movie pretty bad.
So Perry’s character is supposed to be a little bit like that as a dandy man of wealth who has no idea what he’s doing in the wilderness. He is supposed to be the straight man. But it’s so half-assed, much like his performance as a voice actor in “Fallout: New Vegas.”
And for the record, I never watched “Friends,” so I have never seen Perry be “funny.”
Froemming: I have seen “Friends” and trust me, the man is not funny. Was David Spade busy or something? Anyone would have been better here.
Brown: Anyways, back to the movie. Edwards and Hunt get a motley crew together. In it, there’s Jackson, the old man who wants to see the Pacific before he dies. There’s Bidwell, who basically is this movie’s Nordberg from “Naked Gun,” minus all that messy real-life stuff that OJ Simpson did.
And then there’s Guy Fontenot (Levy), the absurd Frenchman who will kill any man who lays eyes on his beautiful Native American woman (whom he bought, because America was a sketchy-ass place), Snaquinna.
Froemming: This just proves my theory that the French are a shady people and therefore, untrustworthy. Prove me wrong!
Brown: I’m sure your buddies at the MAGA rally will agree with you.
Just like Farley, I like Levy’s performance in this. He’s a fine character actor and he hams it up like you would expect in a Chris Farley comedy.
So, it’s a small crew that will head west because, well, most of the crew abandons the mission at jump street to go to New Orleans because it’s too tough to row up the Missouri River.
Frankly, I’d MUCH rather go to New Orleans than say, what, Portland? Bourbon St. > Hipster anything.
Froemming: What, you’re not into artisanal pickles and IPAs tasting like grape Kool-Aid and rancid butter?
Yes, the motley crew decides to head to where the fun is while Hunt uses his gun to keep our main cast behind for the hijinks that follows.
Also, I was surprised to see Bokeem Woodbine as Perry’s slave in this. I was hoping he would deal with his slave master the way he handled his enemies in the second season of “Fargo.”
Again, Farley, Levy, Woodbine and all make a solid cast. Christopher Guest went on to make some of my favorite comedies with “Best in Show” and “A Mighty Wind.” I am confused as to how this movie went so horribly, horribly wrong.
Brown: This movie may be Christopher Guest’s most incomplete work since Nigel Tufnel’s ballad “Lick My Love Pump.” It’s not the best script or story, but movies like this can work off the strength of the characters or performances. There are bright spots like we’ve said, but there is one TURRIBLE performance that sinks a lot of the other performances. Thanks, “Speedball.”
A short time down river, our explorers run into a Native American tribe. And in one of my favorite jokes in the movie, we see the group trade a bunch of Edwards’ valuables in exchange for not killing them, according to Hunt. In actuality, he just didn’t want to haul that crap around.
Seriously, there is some good, witty humor in this. It just never quite comes together.
Froemming: Oh yeah, I also like after this as they are floating (up?) river, one of the crew just starts playing the bagpipes. And later on, as everyone is sick of it, we get Hunt going off in that classic Farley rage that he needs to learn another song. Then there is my favorite side character, Bidwell. The man who continues to believe in the journey despite getting his ear torn off by a shady Frenchman, his leg being eaten by a bear and getting shot by Conquistadors. Again, some funny moments that are tanked by “Speedball” being unfunny and as charismatic as an old boot.
While on the river, Hunt tells them the tales of all the wild animals in the woods that are a danger. As the crew gets all paranoid, they freak out over a — squirrel. This is OK, not the best joke (the rabbit on “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” did it better) but after they stop shooting, someone sees it has a nut in its paws and they blast away at the thing.
Brown: I’m sure you were like me when Bidwell got his ear sliced off, I thought “This movie got all ‘Blue Velvet’-y real quick.” Plus, I was more upset about Bidwell getting attacked by the bear than I was about DiCaprio’s similar predicament in “The Revenant.”
On their last stop before uncharted territory, we get more group hijinks. Edwards buys the group beers, save for Hunt, who gets a bath, a haircut (that goes away almost instantly) and a molar pulled by a man who put human teeth on taxidermied animal heads, which is pure nightmare fuel. Also, hearing Farley say “Drinking has its benefits” was a little sad.
Froemming: To be fair, it was the lethal mix of cocaine, morphine and (probably) the haunting memory of filming a movie with Matthew Perry that did Farley in.
Brown: True, but still, he was a dude with substance abuse problems. And now I’ve made myself sad.
The side characters, they think they’re going to a whorehouse but are brought to a room with women made of straw, which is next-level serial killer (REDACTED). The fact that the guys actually make out and (I presume) make love to these dolls, that is also NEXT-LEVEL SERIAL KILLER (REDACTED).
Edwards, Guy and Shaquinna are still at the bar when the evil Hidalgo barges in, threatens people and tries to buy Shaquinna from Guy. Eventually, Guy agrees to join the evil Spaniard but not before Edwards tries defending her honor. He’s about to be killed before Hunt shows up and challenged them to a duel.
What kind of duel? Drinking contest, which Farley wins. Context is not kind here. And now I’m sad again. But hey, Edwards gets to keep his crush around despite the fact he did NOTHING.
Our hero, ladies and gentlemen!
Froemming: Hunt should have thwarted Hidalgo the way Jerry Seinfeld did: Break up the friendship like one breaks up a relationship:
Now, our crew finds themselves at a problem: They have the Rocky Mountains in their way. Of course, Edwards plays it down like it will be nothing.
Then they get hit by a winter storm that seems like a nice beach vacation compared to what we have in Minnesota right now.
Edwards becomes sick, and instead of letting nature take its course with him, Shaquinna tells Hunt she can save him with the aid of an eagle egg. Hunt should have ignored this comment like I do when people try to get me to go out to the bars: Continue talking like I didn’t hear what they just said.
But alas, Hunt heads down the mountain to find an eagle egg. And he does, which is actually a decent bit that seems like it was straight out of an SNL skit.
Brown: This is my favorite bit in the movie. In my one viewing of this movie before this week, this is the one thing I remembered from “Almost Heroes.” Between the stock footage of that eagle being used four times in this movie and the various payoffs, it showed again that this movie had potential. And it had the right kind of guy to do the Hunt role in Farley. The man excels at physical humor and this should be in the career highlight reel.
Sadly, he gets the eagle egg back to camp (well, the shell was all Shaquinna needed) and Edwards survives. So the gang gets over the Rockies, which I expected to be rockier than it was.
They build canoes, head down river and actually overtake Lewis and Clark for a spell before they go down a bunch of rapids AND a waterfall. Somehow, everyone survives this, even Bidwell, who would be a perfect candidate for Operation: Human Shield.
Froemming: But they find themselves so close to the ocean they can actually see it. The problem is that in order to beat Lewis and Clark there, they have a rocky summit to go down.
Brown: And before that, they have another run-in with Hidalgo.
Froemming: That is right!
So, Hidalgo kidnaps the crew after a big falling out between Edwards and everyone else. They are sick and tired of following this moron around, much like I was sick of hearing how great the show “Friends” was, even though it was painfully mediocre. And Hidalgo captures them.
Edwards and Hunt escape and find some geriatric Native Americans to help them get their crew back.
This is probably my favorite gag in the movie:
Brown: I like to think that they had the same teacher Yoda had for his fight in “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.”
It comes to a head when Edwards and Hidalgo have a sword fight and it’s revealed how far Hidalgo’s vanity goes. The hair he is beyond fond of? A wig. And, he wears a girdle. So, you know, Hidalgo is pretty much William Shatner. Edwards is moments away from dealing the killing blow, but they realize how close they are to the Pacific and they just caught a glance of Lewis and Clark closing in.
NOW, Froemming, take us to the cliffs.
Froemming: After trying to knock out Edwards with his fist, then a boulder, Hunt decides he will go down the rocks to thwart Lewis and Clark. And he does, and promptly tumbles until he is near — you guessed it, an eagle’s nest.
This gag will never be unfunny to me.
Brown: That (REDACTED) stock footage got to me again. It’s legit like the Sideshow Bob rakes gag from “The Simpsons.”
The eagle then carries Hunt over the ocean, where the bird promptly drops him. Hunt survives all right.
And as he gets to shore, his crew and Edwards are already there. Another great bit: They found a trail after he fell and walked down there. If only he had waited a minute or two…
Well, the team beat Lewis and Clark to the ocean, Hunt plants the flag into the sand and now the team is wondering about their next adventure. I don’t know if this was sequel baiting, if it was that was bad considering even if Farley had not passed away, there was no way in hell this crappy film would ever had gotten a sequel.
Brown: I gladly would have taken a sequel if it meant Farley was alive. And if “Speedball” had died in the Pacific Ocean on the way to Alaska.
With that said, let’s have an angry eagle carry us to recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: Only if you’re a diehard Farley fan. There are bright spots but on the whole, it’s not a good movie.
Froemming: Nope. This is not a good movie. Chris Farley is funny in it, but there are better films of his to watch.