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Film / Tommy Boy

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Holy shnikies!

Tommy Callahan: Hey, I know I'm not probably the answer you guys are looking for, but I feel I gotta do something. You're right. I don't know much about this stuff, but he does.
Richard Hayden: Oh, no!

A 1995 comedy directed by Peter Segal and starring Chris Farley and David Spade.

Tommy Callahan (Farley) is the Manchild son of charismatic auto-part-factory owner Tom Callahan (Brian Dennehy). Big Tom is marrying Beverly Barish-Burns (Bo Derek), a trophy wife who brings along her rather conniving adult "son" Paul (Rob Lowe), but things go downhill when Big Tom suffers a fatal heart attack at the wedding reception. His now-widow and stepson quickly set plans in motion to sell the company to rival auto magnate Ray Zalinsky (Dan Aykroyd), which will make them rich but put all the workers at Callahan out of business.

The only way for Tommy to avert this is to go on the road and sell enough orders for brake pads to make the company profitable. But will a bumbling idiot who took seven years to finish college have enough business savvy to make a sale... and will he be able to overcome the scheming of his new "family"?


The movie was panned by critics (Roger Ebert put it on his Most Hated Film List), but it was a success commercially and was Chris Farley's Star-Making Role.

Not to be confused with Tomboy. See also Black Sheep (1996), a another comedy film starring Chris Farley and David Spade released the following year.

This film provides examples of:

  • Absurdly Youthful Mother: Beverly looks awfully young for someone with a grownup son. It's because she's not really Paul's mother; she's his wife!
  • Actor Allusion:
  • The Alleged Car: Richard's Cool Car turns into this during the course of the film, between the M&M's, the door coming off at the gas station (forcing them to replace it with cardboard), the deer tearing up the entire backseat (and most of the rest of the car), and the hood coming off because of the oil can left in. By the end of the film, Richard parks it illegally and tells the objecting security guard to "keep it".
  • Advertisement:
  • Amazing Freaking Grace: Played during Big Tom's funeral, on bagpipes. As Tommy Boy walks home, a brass choir joins the mix.
  • Amusing Injuries: Paul. Also Tommy, when Richard finally loses it around him and when he's in the plane bathroom.
  • And Call Him "George"!: Tommy's Large Ham explanation to the waiter about how he kills sales with his bumbling is a picture-perfect showcase of how this trope works. It also unnerves the waiter enough to make her decide to give him what he wants.
  • Benevolent Boss: Big Tom Callahan. Tommy becomes this by the end of the movie. In between them is Frank Rittenhauer, chairman of Callahan's board of directors, who keeps the company going while Tommy and Richard are on the road.
  • Big Bad: One might initially be inclined to think that it's Zalinsky, who plays entirely by the book, but it's really Beverly and Paul.
  • Big Fun: Applies to both Tommy and Big Tom Callahan.
  • Bluffing the Authorities: Tommy has been driving as Richard drinks. When cops try to pull them over Tommy, knowing that they will never believe he wasn't drinking, starts driving even more erratically, then pulls over and runs out of the car pretending to be attacked by bees. The officers, both of whom are allergic to bees, make a hasty retreat.
  • Book-Ends: The film starts and ends with Tommy, in boyhood and adulthood, trying to get somewhere in time (school/a dinner date with Michelle), only to get hit in the head, saying "Son of a- That's gonna leave a mark." afterwards.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Tommy. Richard, upon realizing this, explains this to him by comparing "Book Smart" (which Tommy clearly lacks) with "Street Smart". Once Tommy relaxes and stops trying too hard, he becomes an excellent salesman.
  • Breathe on the Fan: Lalalala-Luuuke! Luuuuuke... I am your fa-ther! (also a Beam Me Up, Scotty!)
  • Camp Straight: Richard.
  • Casual Car Giveaway: At the end of the film when Tommy and Richard arrive at the doors of the airport, they ditch their car. When a police officer tells them that they're not allowed to park there, Richard tosses him the keys and says "keep it" (the car was basically falling apart at this point).
  • Catch-Phrase: "Son of a..."
    • "I have a plan!" "...Yikes."
    • "Shut up, Richard."
    • "Holy shnikies!"
    • "That's gonna leave a mark."
  • Character Development: When he starts his sales trip, Tommy tries and fails to use Big Tom's pitch "I can get a good look at a T-bone by sticking my head up a bull's ass, but I'd rather take a butcher's word for it.". Towards the end, Tommy says it correctly, which shows everyone he's a worthy successor to his father.
  • Charm Person: Big Tom Callahan is gifted when it comes to talking people into doing what he wants them to do (as Richard says to Tommy "your dad could sell a ketchup Popsicle to a woman wearing white gloves"). Later on Tommy discovers that he has the same talent once he stops imitating his dad and just does what comes naturally.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Michelle tells Tommy that her brother has since become a policeman. Later, she learns from him that Beverly and Paul aren't actually mother and son, but a husband and wife team of con artists.
  • Chew Toy: Richard's car.
  • Childhood Brain Damage: A Running Gag has people ask Chris Farley's character if he did X (ate paint chips, played around power-lines, etc.) as a child. Tommy would usually answer "Why?"
  • Comically Missing the Point: When Big Tom introduced Beverly to Tommy, he told Tommy about having proposed to her. Tommy asked him what her reply was.
  • Cow Tipping: The title character takes his soon-to-be-stepbrother out cow tipping. However, when he attempts to knock the cow over, he slips in the mud, the cow moos, the farmer comes out and chases them off with a shotgun.
  • Danger Takes a Backseat: The deer.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Richard has one while ogling Ms. Fanservice from his hotel window. Tommy never lets him live it down.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Almost every line Richard says throughout the film has some kind of belittling of Tommy's intelligence or lampshading of how stupid he thinks the whole thing is.
  • Didn't See That Coming: The con artists expected to simply bleed Big Tom dry for like a year before getting a big payday. Then he immediately died.
  • Dodgy Toupee: The dodgy half is averted, as no one knows Richard's even wearing one until it was blown off by a big fan.
  • Does This Make Me Look Fat?: "No no no, your face does."
  • Donut Mess with a Cop: Michelle's brother used to steal donuts back when he and Tommy were kids. He's a cop now.
  • Door Dumb: Tommy tries to open the front door to the university building, only to find it locked. After panicking and giving up, he slumps down on the steps just as another student calmly opens the adjacent door and walks in.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Tommy (a guy almost everyone expects to fail) endures one misfortune after another, but he saves the company in the end and is hailed as a hero.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Young!Tommy's mother calls him into the house because he'll be late to school - and he promptly runs face-first into the sliding glass door.
  • Eureka Moment: When Richard sees Tommy cajole chicken wings out of the surly waitress Helen, simply by (dramatically) illustrating why he's failed as a salesman so far, his reaction turns from bemusement to awe, and he muses that all Tommy needed to do was relax and do what comes naturally. Richard then invokes "chicken wings" to Tommy during their next sales visit to replicate the effect.
  • Everyone Went to School Together: Tommy and Richard knew each other since childhood, and Tommy also went to school with Michelle and her unseen brother Dwayne. Justified because Sandusky is a rather small town.
  • Face Fault: One of Farley's specialties.
  • Fake Video Camera View: When Richard is filming parts of the wedding.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Michelle fails to notice that Paul changed the quantities of various orders on the computer.
  • Fanservice Extra: The gorgeous blonde woman who only appears in a single scene so she can go skinny-dipping.
  • Fat and Skinny: "Fat guy in a little coat! Fat guy in a little coat!"
  • Foreign Sounding Gibberish: The closed captioners didn't bother to look up the proper Spanish lyrics for the scene where the two of them sing "Eres tú", thus rendering the lyrics as quasi-Spanish-looking nonsense.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Richard, by his own admission.
  • Friendly Enemy: When Zalinsky meets Tommy, he immediately expresses his condolences for Big Tom.
  • Funny Background Event: Inside a gas station, Richard asks the clerk how far they are from Davenport, Iowa; meanwhile, Tommy accidentally unhinges the driver's side door trying to pump gas, and is seen from inside the station struggling to force it back in place.
  • Genius Ditz: As Richard points out: Tommy may not have book smarts, but he has "street smarts." He's great at convincing people to do what he wants them to do, which in turn makes him a great salesman once he stops trying to imitate his father and just does what comes naturally.
  • Gilligan Cut:
    • Richard tells Tommy they can't take no for an answer. Cut to a montage of customers saying "no" and Tommy going, "Okay, then" and getting up to leave.
    • When the Carpenters' "Superstar" is on the car radio, Tommy and Richard both make fun of the song and noncommittally about changing stations. Quick scene cut, and they're both singing the song at the top of their lungs, tears streaming down their cheeks.
  • Gold Digger: Beverly, who marries Big Tom just so she can divorce him later on and take half his fortune.
  • Graceful Loser: Zalinsky, once he realizes he can't salvage the situation.
  • Greeting Gesture Confusion: When Tommy meets someone he believes to be his future stepbrother, he holds out his hand to shake.
    Tommy: Brothers don't shake hands! Brothers gotta HUG!
  • Guile Hero: Tommy when he puts his mind to things, Idiot Hero when he does not.
  • Heroes' Frontier Step: The scene with the waitress is what convinces Richard that Tommy can sell.
  • Hidden Depths: Tommy seems lazy and immature, but it's shown he sincerely wants to help keep his father's company afloat and make his dad proud. He also cares very much about the workers, to the point that he's willing to sell his shares and house in order to save everyone's jobs.
  • Hollywood Heart Attack: Averted. Big Tom Callahan just collapses when he has his fatal heart attack.
  • Hurricane of Euphemisms: Tommy uses a few after catching Richard on A Date with Rosie Palms.
    Tommy: Richard! Were you watching, "Spank-tra-vision?" Maybe you were watching a movie with that funny comedian! Oh, whats his name? Buddy... Whack-it? Say! That's a pretty girl down there! Gee, I wonder if she goes out with one of the Yankees!
    Tommy: Richard... who's your favorite Little Rascal? Alfalfa? Or is it... Spanky?
  • I Take Offense to That Last One!: In the Chicago office building when a little boy calls Tommy out for being a bank robber, he says, "Oh, like it was some other real fat guy with a tiny head!" Tommy says, "... I have a tiny head?"
  • Jerkass: Richard, although he evolves into somewhat of a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
  • Karma Houdini: While Paul is arrested and effectively vasectomized, Beverly not only gets away scot-free but gets a brand-new, even richer sugar daddy. Justified, since Paul abandoned her while trying to escape and was the one who actually came up with the plans and performed sabotage on the company. The only "evil" things Beverly did was marry a man for his money and lie about already being married (and try to sell off the company, but hey that's just business). Of course that leaves a problem of felony aiding and abetting, but it's just a movie.
  • Kids Are Cruel: The three kids at the lake.
  • Large Ham: Tommy, of course.
  • Late for School: The movie opens with a scene of young Tommy frantically trying to catch the bus to elementary school, then skips forward to modern day where Tommy is in college and late for his final history exam.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: When they need to change clothes on the airplane, Richard steps into the bathroom first, and emerges fully changed two seconds later. Then, while Richard explains to Tommy what they need to do when they get to Chicago, Tommy is looking back and forth from Richard to the bathroom, utterly perplexed.
  • Manchild: Tommy, again.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: The opening scene of the film depicts both Tommy and Richard as children.
  • Mistaken for Terrorist: Well, mistaken for bank robber. Twice in fact: The first time, he simply yells "Listen up! This will only take a second!" and everyone drops to the ground. The second time, he's Strapped to a Bomb made of road flares, trying to get the attention of the news crew that's only there because of the first mistake.
  • Mood Whiplash: Heartwarming reunion! Gleeful wedding! Tear-jerking funeral. Funny buddy road movie?
  • Ms. Fanservice: Beverly. The girl at the pool (played by Lorri Bagley) is a Fanservice Extra.
  • Never Live It Down: In-universe: Tommy catches Richard ogling an attractive skinny-dipper. After some initial teasing, they go to bed:
    Tommy: Big day tomorrow. Hope we can keep this momentum goin'.
    Richard: Yup. That'd be good.
    Tommy: Richard... Who's your favorite little rascal? Alfalfa? Or is it Spanky? ...Sinner.
  • Never My Fault: "Whatcha do?"
  • Nice Character, Mean Actor: While Zalinsky isn't monstrously mean, it's clear that he doesn't have the high opinion of the American working man that his commercials imply.
  • Not Quite Dead: The deer they accidentally hit.
  • Phrase-Catcher: "Did you eat a lot of paint chips when you were a kid?" "Hehehe... why?" Near the end, Zalinsky changes it a bit and asks if he lived under power lines when he was a kid.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Big Tom suffering a heart attack at the wedding is what prompts Tommy to try and save his father's company.
  • Random Events Plot: To the point that Roger Ebert declared that "is one of those movies that plays like an explosion down at the screenplay factory."
  • Rant-Inducing Slight: Richard doesn't have much patience towards Tommy, but after the hood flies open on the highway, he tears Tommy to shreds.
    Richard: Hey, I was just thinking, when we stopped for gas this morning, I think it was you who put the oil in.
    Tommy: Hey, if you're gonna say I didn't put the right kind, then you're wrong. I used 10W-30. And besides, motor oil would have nothing to do with this accident.
    Richard: True. But you can't latch the hood too well if you don't take the can out, you no-selling waste of space! I swear to God you're worthless!
  • Reality Ensues: A guy of Chris Farley's size changing clothes in a tiny airplane bathroom? Tommy even tries to protest (maybe he can change at the airport?) but Richard won't have it. Rule of Funny in effect here. This is even set up by Richard going into the bathroom before him...and emerging fully changed two seconds later.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Tommy gets more than his share of these speeches from Richard throughout the movie, but Richard gets a very well-deserved one from a prospective client, who calls him out on being a smug, condescending Jerkass to everyone he meets.
    Client: There's a problem: I don't like you. I never have, and I probably never will. You're a smug, unhappy little man who treats people like they're idiots.
  • Refuge in Audacity: When Richard gets drunk after Paul's computer sabotage makes things turn way south, Tommy's car's targeted by cops; when the car weaves, they put their lights on, but Tommy relates a little trick his Dad taught him; they stop the car and act like giant bees are attacking them! Both cops in pursuit are allergic to bees, so they leave. Score!
  • Running Gag:
    Tommy: Can I open my eyes now, dad?
    Big Tom: I told you not to cover them.
    Big Tom: For God's sakes, stop covering your damn eyes!
    • Also, Tommy keeps screwing up his dad's catch phrase ("I could get a good look at a t-bone steak by sticking my head up a bull's ass, but I'd rather take the butcher's word for it!") with hilarious results.
  • Sarcasm Mode: "Oh that sounds good: melted chocolate inside the dash. That really ups the resale value."
  • Shirtless Scene: Involuntary on accident-prone Paul's part, after it gets caught in a pneumatic tube. He's very nonchalant about it. But maybe it was on purpose...
  • Something Something Leonard Bernstein: Done with the trope naming song (they only catch the chorus and "6 O'clock, TV hour" before it goes down to mumbling).
  • Sound Defect: While spying on the naked girl in the pool, Richard manages to unzip a pair of boxers.
  • Shout-Out: Star Wars.
    • "I know."
    • Bo Derek wears the same bathing suit she wore in Ten. Lampshaded by Tommy when he comments "Dad, she's like... a ten!"
    • Is Tommy channeling Captain Kirk the second time he "gets a plan?"
    • "Yikes."
  • Slave to PR: Zalinsky's public image is all smiles and a We Care attitude toward everyday workers, but the reality is a sobering experience for Tommy. However, Tommy exploits this by having him sign the brake pad purchase order in front of a live news crew.
  • Smart Jerk and Nice Moron: Richard's the right-hand man to Tommy's father, Big Tom Callahan, but comes off as an Insufferable Genius who routinely disparages other people, especially Tommy. Tommy is a bumbling ditz, taking seven years to finish college, but he's willing to do whatever it takes to keep his family's company afloat, even giving up his inheritance. After spending most of the movie struggling to make sales, Richard realizes that Tommy has street smarts when he sees him successfully talk a waitress into giving them a special, and after Tommy learns to stop trying to emulate his father and act naturally, they make many sales.
  • Strapped to a Bomb: Tommy fakes this with road flares and Richard's watch.
  • Talking to the Dead: In the final scene, Tommy talks to his dad while sitting in his stationary sailboat. Tommy takes the wind suddenly blowing as a sign his dad is listening.
  • Techno Babble: Richard knows all the technical details of Callahan's brake pads, but both times he's shown telling potential clients about them, he gets rebuffed.
    Richard: Well then... I'd just like to add that the spectrometer readout on the nickel–cadmium alloy mix indicates a good rich strobe and fade, decreasing incidents of wear to the pressure plate. If you could just—
    Client: Whoa, little fella, you're not speaking my language.
    [much later...]
    Richard: Our brake pads are made with a non-corrosive, poly-plated—
    Ted Nelson: Son, if you're not talking about a guarantee, skip it. My customers need to see that little label looking them right in the eye.
  • Tempting Fate: Averted, when after meeting with Zalinsky and seeing his "new mom and brother" in the boardroom Tommy and Richard sit on a park bench while Tommy bemoans their state of affairs. He doesn't have time to say, "At least it can't get any worse" before the bench collapses under their weight.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: After getting his nuts squashed by a falling weight, being hauled away by the police, and having Zalinsky swoop in and put the moves on his wife, Paul gets a little break from his humiliating defeat courtesy of the aforementioned:
    Zalinsky: (to an assistant) "Find out where they're taking him, send over a bucket of bubbly and a note. Have it read: 'Tough break. Get drunk on me. Use the bucket to ice down your marbles. Yours, Z.'"
  • Travelling Salesman Montage: Of course. There are two in fact. One as a failure and one as a success.
  • Unholy Matrimony: Paul and Beverly are a husband and wife team of con artists who pose as a mother and her son.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Tommy and Richard are constantly trading insults with each other, but when the chips are down they have to admit that they consider each other friends.
  • We Care: Zalinsky's ads: "I make car parts for the American working man, because that's what I am, and that's who I care about." The reality: "Truth is, I make car parts for the American working man because I'm a hell of a salesman and he doesn't know any better."
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Tommy tells Michelle if she keeps the files in the file cabinet, then they wouldn't have lost the factory.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Beverly was this to Tommy until it was revealed she was already married to Paul, thus making her marriage to Big Tom illegal.
  • Won't Take "Yes" for an Answer: Tommy certainly wasn't expecting someone would buy from him...
  • Worthy Opponent: After Tommy tricks Zalinsky into buying half a million brake pads and saving Callahan Auto, Zalinsky seems impressed rather than outraged.
    Zalinsky: Well kid, you threw one by me. Savor the flavor because it sure as hell won't happen again. In the meantime, good luck to you.
  • You Don't Want to Catch This: "Bees! Bees! Oh God, they're everywhere!"


Example of: