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Monday, June 1, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Farley's Talent Wasted In `Almost Heroes'

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

------------------------------- Movie review

X 1/2 "Almost Heroes," with Chris Farley, Matthew Perry and Eugene Levy. Directed by Christopher Guest from a script by Mark Nutter, Tom Wolfe and Boyd Hale. Auburn Cinema 17, Aurora, Bella Bottega, East Valley 13, Everett 9, Grand Cinemas, Issaquah 9, Kirkland Parkplace, Metro, Mountlake 9, Puyallup 6, Renton Village, SeaTac Mall, Uptown, Valley Drive-In, Woodinville 12. 92 minutes."PG-13" - Parental guidance advised for crude humor, nudity. -------------------------------

It's hard to watch "Almost Heroes" without feeling at least a tinge of sadness. Especially if you're a Chris Farley fan. The blubbering, belching comedian with the volcanic wit and a head the size of a basketball is the star of this film, the last he made before his death in December at age 33.

Unfortunately, Farley's unintended farewell is hardly memorable.

The period piece comedy, set in 1804, gets off to a promising, satisfyingly insolent start. Like "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," the film targets historical lore, in this case the Lewis and Clark expedition. More specifically, it parodies documentary filmmaker Ken Burns' PBS series on the famed explorers who set off to map the uncharted West.

A humorous opening sequence shows cheesy Western art and maps, while ubiquitous Burns-like theme music plays and a solemn narrator introduces the Lewis and Clark wannabes.

Farley plays Bartholomew Hunt, a slobbering, certifiably crude Army scout sentenced to death by hanging for asking an officer to waltz with him. As he stands on the gallows waiting for the sentence to be carried out, he is asked for his last words. Farley's response is classic and, given the context, slightly surreal: "When I am dead and passed on to the next world and you have lowered me from the gallows," he begins calmly, before erupting in rage and suggesting everyone kiss his hirsute posterior. Perhaps not the image Farley wanted to leave fans, but a hint nonetheless of his devil-may-care lifestyle.

Hunt is rescued from death by the dandyish Leslie Edwards (Matthew Perry), who persuades him to join his expedition to catch up with Lewis and Clark, who have a two-week head start. Things don't look good when the motley crew members Hunt and Edwards assemble for the grand adventure decide they'd rather go to New Orleans than battle northward against the river's current.

A few men stay on, however, including Guy Fontenot (Eugene Levy), a translator who claims to know the languages of hundreds of Indian tribes but fails miserably when his skills are required.

By the time the actual trip begins, though, the movie starts to fall apart. The writing becomes lazy, and the jokes less frequent. There are predictable gags, waterfall exploits, drinking bouts and swordfights, but the plot comes to an abrupt halt. Director Christopher Guest seems more interested in wrapping up the film than providing any inspired hilarity along the way.

Most disappointing, though, is that Farley's balloon of manic talent is deflated by a predictable, even tedious script. Crudity can be a brilliant device, but in "Almost Heroes" it is an overused crutch.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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