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BULK PACKAGE CHRIS FARLEY MANEUVERS THROUGH A MIDDLING 'TOMMY BOY'

NEXT UP from the "Saturday Night Live" assembly line of producer Lorne Michaels: "Tommy Boy," starring the odd couple of rotund Chris Farley and hawkish David Spade.

Like Michaels' previous "Wayne's World" movies and"Coneheads," "Tommy Boy" feels like an extended sketch. But the elements that could hold such a sketch together over 90 minutes -- strong characters, surprising plot -- are largely absent.

Chris Farley's big, sloppy St. Bernard of a character is the exception. Tommy Boy Callahan is the son of auto-parts factory owner Big Tom (Brian Dennehy), but the apple has fallen far from the tree -- he's a doofus of the first order. He's too stupid to know when he's being insulted ("Did you eat a lot of paint chips when you were a kid?" "No. . . . Why?"). And he's forever bumping into things and getting whacked with things, which is amusing up to a point. That point comes well before the movie's end, though.

When Big Tom keels over dead at his own wedding reception, Tommy Boy goes on the road to sell the company's new line of brake pads, with bankruptcy looming.

His partner on that trip, Richard Hayden, is played by David Spade, the annoying receptionist on "SNL" and a man of a million over-precise hand gestures. A customer describes him best: "You're a smug, unhappy little man and you treat people like idiots." In contrast to guileless, idiotically blissful Tommy Boy, of course. Spade's character is the kind of guy you don't expect to find in a small town like Sandusky, Ohio.

The intrigue, such as it is, is provided by Bo Derek and Rob Lowe. Derek plays Beverly, who marries Big Tom on the strength of her bikini top; Lowe, a loathsome producer in "Wayne's World," here plays another smarmy amoral jerk, in league with Beverly to torpedo the big sales trip and loot the company.

As they travel the Midwest in a rapidly deteriorating '67 Plymouth GTX convertible, Tommy learns to sell, Richard learns to lighten up, and by the end it's time to sing "You've Got a Friend."

As I said, it's sketch comedy in a stretch. But Farley is fun to watch as he maneuvers his impressive bulk. Getting out of a chair is a two-step process, but he's surprisingly agile for a big man; he turns a respectable cartwheel, for example. There's a terrific scene in which he changes clothes in one of those cramped airplane lavatories -- big guy vs. small space, and we know who's going to win.

Local note: The soundtrack includes a snippet of a Goo Goo Dolls song.

Movie
Tommy Boy
Rating: **
An oaf tries to make a go of the family auto-parts business after his father's death.
Starring Chris Farley, David Spade, Brian Dennehy, Rob Lowe and Bo Derek. Directed by Peter Segal.
Rated PG-13, opens today at area movie theaters.

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