Black Sheep (1996 film)

Black Sheep is a 1996 American comedy film directed by Penelope Spheeris, written by Fred Wolf, and starring Chris Farley and David Spade. The film follows a political aide who is assigned to control the brother of a candidate for Governor of Washington, who attempts to offer his campaign unwanted, incompetent, and publicly embarrassing help. The film also stars Tim Matheson, Christine Ebersole, and Gary Busey. Chris Owen and Wolf have cameo appearances, and Farley's real-life brothers Kevin and John appear as security guards at an MTV Rock the Vote concert. The film grossed $32.3 million during its U.S. theatrical run.[2]

Black Sheep
BlackSheep Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPenelope Spheeris
Produced byLorne Michaels
Written byFred Wolf
Music byWilliam Ross
CinematographyDaryn Okada
Edited byRoss Albert
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • February 2, 1996 (1996-02-02)
Running time
86 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$32.4 million[1]


Mike Donnelly, a good-natured but loud and bumbling oddball of his family, is driving an advertisement truck to support his brother Al Donnelly's campaign for Governor of Washington. His competition is incumbent Evelyn Tracy. Mike is chased by dogs while driving and crashes into a local movie theatre. Al's campaign manager, Roger Kovary, advises Al to get rid of Mike, but Al decides to have Mike campaign for him in town with the assistance of campaign aide Steve Dodds, who accepts the job in return for a spot on Al's staff following the election. As Steve goes to pick up Mike, he hits crazed Vietnam veteran Sgt. Drake Sabitch, who ends up stealing his rental car.

Later on, Mike tries to stop underage kids from drinking, but incriminating pictures make it look like he was drinking with them, leading to his termination from a county recreation center. While packing up, he runs into a pair of thugs who set fire to the building, while the same photographer takes potentially incriminating pictures of Mike right after the thugs leave the scene of the fire. However, the first cop to arrive at the scene is Robbie Mighuem, a friend of Mike's who lets him and Steve leave before the police arrive. The two take off in Mike's car and, per Kovary's instructions, head for a shack in rural Garfield County.

The next day, as Steve and Mike hang fliers, Steve tries to make a call via cell phone; while looking for a place with reception, Steve stumbles upon the home of the aforementioned Drake Sabitch - an old school bus with a TV, a hammock, a grill, and several weapons. While trying to find a high-ground to get reception on his phone, Steve accidentally loosens a rock in a pile of stones. Later on, as the guys play checkers, a huge boulder rolls down the mountain, almost completely knocking their cabin off its foundation; that night, a stormy wind blows the roof away and hail falls inside. The next day, Mike tries to talk to Al, but Kovary refuses, so Mike decides to head into Seattle that night to talk to Al, who is going on MTV's Rock the Vote campaign. However, after hanging out with some Rastafarians and being mistaken for his brother, Mike makes a fool of himself onstage (culminating to his yelling "KILL WHITEY!" to a suddenly silent audience) as a shocked Al and Kovary helplessly watch. Because of his stunt, Al decides to no longer let Mike help him with the campaign, leaving Mike down. The next day, Steve and Mike sneak into Drake's home (after dodging some hidden land mines) to watch Al's debate on his TV. When Steve goes outside to use the restroom, he is attacked by Drake, but is saved by Mike, who beats the ex-soldier in unarmed combat. Drake is impressed by Mike's fighting skill and befriends both men.

Governor Tracy, in hopes of sabotaging Al following their debate, purchases the pictures of Mike at the rec center fire and posts them on TV, therefore allowing Tracy to win the election. Mike notices that the total vote count is 1,882 for Garfield County, when in fact there are only 1,502 registered voters there; furthermore, Mike recognizes the two men who set the rec center on fire standing next to Tracy. Mike and Steve go to the Garfield County Courthouse, where they obtain the names of the voters in the election. They discover that over half the people who voted for Tracy have been dead for over ten years (including Drake's father and grandfather), proving Tracy had rigged the elections. To get this to the people and Al, Mike and Steve borrow Robbie's squad car to get to Governor Tracy's victory party the following day.

At the party, the duo appears during Tracy's victory speech and the police try to arrest Mike for arson. At the podium, Mike takes a gun from one of the cops and pretends to hold Steve hostage, while Drake shows up in time to prevent a sniper from shooting Mike and controls the crowd by threatening them with an RPG. Mike reveals Tracy's election fraud, overturning the election results and making Al the winner.

Three months later, Steve is Al's new assistant and advisor, replacing Kovary after earlier in the movie, he made Al choose between his career or being with his "loser" brother and as a result, Al fired him; Al offered Mike a job in his administration, but he declined since he got his job running the recreation center back; and Al has decreased crime rates in Washington. As Al and Steve enter a jet to go to a meeting, Mike's jacket gets caught in the plane's door, causing him to be trapped outside while it takes off.



Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels produced the film, which was directed by Wayne's World helmer Penelope Spheeris. Michaels later said that the film was "an act of desperation by Paramount," in that the movie studio had under-promoted Spade and Farley's 1995 film, Tommy Boy and was now looking to profit from the same comedy formula.[3] Michaels had contentious battles with the studio over the script of 1993's Wayne's World 2, and the animosity between the two camps spilled over into Farley's contract with Paramount.[3] Although his agent lined up possible roles for the actor in The Cable Guy (for which he was offered $3 million)[4] and Kingpin, the movie studio remained firm on wanting another buddy comedy with Farley and Spade.[3]

The film was written by Fred Wolf, who stated the studio told him to "deliver a finished script by midnight on Sunday, the last day Chris was contractually allowed to get out of the movie. If I didn't have a finished script -- any finished script -- they were going to sue me."[4] Wolf wrote 45 pages within a few days, and dropped the script off at Paramount 15 minutes before his deadline.[4] After reading the script, Farley said that he "wasn't crazy" about it, and only agreed to do the film after coaxing from David Spade.[4]

Spheeris had notable disagreements with writer Fred Wolf and David Spade throughout the entire production of the film. Spheeris fired Wolf from the film three times (he was hired back twice by Farley and once by Lorne Michaels), then refused to speak to him and finally banned him from the set.[5] Her relationship with Spade was equally as tumultuous. Speaking to Farley's official biographer, she said, "I don't think I've ever even smiled at anything David Spade's ever done... I still have a recording of a message David left on my answering machine. He said, 'You've spent this whole movie trying to cut my comedy balls off.'"[5] The two worked together again on the 1998 comedy Senseless.

The combination of bright lights on set and working under sunlight while filming Black Sheep caused permanent damage to David Spade's eyes. Spade says of his condition: "I have to wear a hat even indoors and flashes in particular freak me out. I even have to make them turn down the lights in the make-up trailers. I've become such a pain in the butt with this light-sensitive thing, it's a wonder they don't Just Shoot Me!"[6]


Black Sheep is the final appearance of Spade and Farley together, and it is often unfavorably compared to Tommy Boy, though it has also gained a cult following. On Rotten Tomatoes it has an approval rating of 28% based on reviews from 32 critics. The site's consensus states: "Chris Farley and David Spade reunite to diminishing returns in Black Sheep, a comedic retread that succumbs to a woolly plot and sophomoric jokes."[7] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade B+ on scale of A to F.[8]

Film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave the film "two thumbs down," with Siskel admitting that Black Sheep was one of only three films he ever walked out on, the others being Million Dollar Duck and Maniac. Siskel stated several times that he did not like Chris Farley and thought of him as a terrible actor, stating at one point "I hate Chris Farley, just rubs me the wrong way. I knew John Belushi, I knew John Candy, he's no John Belushi or John Candy." Ebert (who gave the movie thumbs down) called it "not only one of the worst comedies I've ever seen, but one of the least ambitious; it doesn't even feel like they're trying to make a good movie."[9] A few weeks later, during their televised review of Happy Gilmore, Ebert tried to defend Farley, saying that he thought Siskel was too hard on him, and that he believed with the right script Farley could be good in a film.[10]

The opinions of other reviewers were mixed. In his review, Richard Leiby of The Washington Post wrote "Farley and Spade manage to wring humor from a series of juvenile setups and predictable pratfalls."[11] Barry Walters of the San Francisco Examiner wrote that "there isn't one shred of slightly intellectual wit" in the film.[12]


  1. ^ "Black Sheep (1996)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 14, 2012.
  2. ^ Black Sheep (1996) - Box office / business
  3. ^ a b c 'Farley, Tom; Colby, Tanner (2008). The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts. Viking Adult. p. 214. ISBN 978-1616804589.
  4. ^ a b c d Farley, Tom; Colby, Tanner (2008). The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts. Viking Adult. p. 215. ISBN 978-1616804589.
  5. ^ a b Farley, Tom; Colby, Tanner (2008). The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts. Viking Adult. ISBN 978-1616804589.[page needed]
  6. ^ Louis B. Hobson (September 5, 2003). "Spade digs up dirt". Cinema Confidential. Archived from the original on 2012-07-10. Retrieved September 11, 2013.
  7. ^ "Black Sheep". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2019-09-09.
  8. ^ "BLACK SHEEP (1996) B+". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on 2018-12-20.
  9. ^ Broken Arrow / Black Sheep / Beautiful Girls (video). Siskel& 1996. Archived from the original on July 14, 2014. Retrieved July 27, 2016.
  10. ^ City Hall / The Late Shift / Happy Gilmore / Oscar Surprises (video). Siskel& 1996. Retrieved July 27, 2016.
  11. ^ "Black Sheep: Good and Baa-d". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2017-02-15.
  12. ^ Barry Walters. "Ho-hum, another lousy flick from some SNL veterans". San Francisco Examiner. Hearst Communications Inc. Retrieved 2017-02-15.

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