Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Christopher Guest|
|Produced by||Denise Di Novi|
|Written by||Mark Nutter|
|Music by||Jeffrey C.J. Vanston|
|Cinematography||Adam Kimmel |
|Edited by||Ronald Roose|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$6.1 million|
Almost Heroes is a 1998 American adventure comedy film directed by Christopher Guest, narrated by Guest's friend and frequent collaborator Harry Shearer, and starring Chris Farley and Matthew Perry. It was Farley's last leading film role and was released following his death in 1997.
Leslie Edwards, a foppish aristocrat, and the loud, low-brow Bartholomew Hunt are competing against the renowned Lewis & Clark to be the first to chart and make it across the United States to the Pacific Ocean. In the beginning of the film, Edwards has high hopes to head the first expedition to make it across the U.S., but while he has ambition and funding, he has grown up sheltered and knows little of the wilderness he seeks to cross. To aid in his journey, he hires the services of a supposedly knowledgeable wilderness-man and tracker, Hunt, who, once they get underway, turns out to be less than advertised.
They are aided by a crew of varied, rugged and grizzled frontiersmen, including the group's version of Sacagawea, a young Indian woman by the name Shaquinna, who is integral in helping them find their way across the dangerous and unknown terrain ahead, as well as eventually becoming Edwards' love interest. Along the way, the group goes through various mishaps and ordeals from having to deal with quirky, indigenous Indian tribes and vicious eagles, to running out of food and romantic snafus, as Hunt's ineptness often causes more problems than it solves. Along the way, Edward and Hunt's shared journey helps Edwards shed his aristocratic, snooty ways and he learns camaraderie and honor, as well as a more humble view of a world he thought he understood. Hunt finds true friendship in Edwards and a sense of self-confidence he had not known before.
After many hardships and setbacks, they eventually make it to the Pacific coast just minutes before Lewis and Clark's expedition; however, once the celebration is over, they find that they do not necessarily want to go back to their old lives and collectively decide to continue their adventure, leading Edwards and Hunt's expedition to further explore the great uncharted world.
The script was written under the title Edwards & Hunt. Because the screenwriters shared the same agent, Rob Carlson, as Steve Oedekerk, known at the time for his success writing for Jim Carrey, Oedekerk was able to help the script circulate. It became a hot script and was ultimately purchased by Turner Pictures.
Chris Farley was the first actor to be cast. The writers originally wanted to offer the role of Leslie Edwards to Hugh Laurie; at that point, he was a star only in the United Kingdom, so Turner executives wished for a more recognizable actor. The role was turned down by Hugh Grant and Bill Murray before Matthew Perry accepted the part.
The film had a $30 million dollar budget. Feeling that the humor of the story was in putting the goofball protagonists against a historical backdrop, the filmmakers opted for realism in the art design. Principal photography began in the summer of 1996. Four weeks were spent shooting in the Big Bear region of Northern California. A town representing St. Louis circa 1804 was constructed at Reading Island park (not really an island) on the Sacramento River, east of Cottonwood, California, and a Native American village set was built upriver. Heat posed a major challenge for the summer shoot, with actors wearing furs in temperatures of over one hundred degrees. For the sequences of the boat on the River, the 2nd unit crew traveled to West Central Montana to film scenic areas on the Missouri River, right along the Helena National Forest and Lewis and Clark National Forest. Additional scenes were shot on locations in Humboldt County, California.
Filming was completed in the fall of 1996, with a 1997 release target. However, the film was delayed a full year due to the pending merger between Turner and Time Warner. By the time the film was released in May 1998, Chris Farley had been dead nearly six months.
Writer Tom Wolfe (not the author of the same name) stated that the script was intended to be more of an ensemble piece than the buddy comedy the studio saw it as. Farley's assistant, Ted Dondanville, stated that in post-production, cuts were made around the star and targeted peripheral characters. He felt that the lost material would have helped Farley's performance. "They cut the ensemble scenes first, Matthew Perry's second, and Chris's never."
A scene featuring Edwards' sweetheart, played by Parker Posey, was cut, as was the film's original ending. The re-shot ending did not include Bokeem Woodbine, resulting in his character Jonah disappearing after the fight against the conquistadors.
Critical reception of Almost Heroes has been generally negative. The film currently has an 8% "Rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 40 reviews. The site's consensus states: "A sorry swan song for the talented Chris Farley, Almost Heroes is a directionless comedy that doesn't even come close to triumph."
James Berardinelli of ReelViews gave the film one out of four stars and wrote: "This is a dreadful motion picture - a lowbrow example of period piece comedy with terrible production values and an exceptionally poor laughs-to-jokes ratio. There's a kind of desperation in the movie's approach to humor that reveals the film makers' uncertainty about how entertaining the material is; the manic style betrays itself as a last-ditch attempt to hide the flaws of a failed script." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly wrote: "Almost Heroes [...] gives off the discomfiting reek of desperation. ... How could director Christopher Guest [...] have reduced himself to staging gags such as Farley's slap-fest with hostile Injuns, Eugene Levy (as a nasty pirate) speaking in a zany French accent, or Farley stealing an egg from an eagle's nest, punching out the bird, and then falling to the ground with an epic thud? Almost Heroes goes thud too. Despite his compulsion to trash everything in his midst, including himself, Chris Farley deserved better." John R. McEwen of Film Quips Online wrote: "It's clear, his death notwithstanding, that Farley is the funniest thing about this... As expected, there is little here but sight gags and low humor, but if you're in the mood (and I must have been), it has its laugh-out-loud moments. ... Perry also has a few good bits, but he is obviously a distant second banana. Additional appearances by people like Eugene Levy and Kevin Dunn, and others, add to the hilarity, although many of the jokes fall flat...I doubt if anyone ever expected Chris Farley to win an Academy Award. But it is a fitting tribute to him that his last outing, while not a great work of American cinema, can provide a good dose of chuckles, and more than a few belly laughs."
One of the film's producers, Denise Di Novi, reflected on the failure of the end product:
The script was brilliant. We even hired Christopher Guest to direct it. I've thought so many times about what went wrong. I always like to say I have the distinction of making the only unsuccessful Christopher Guest movie. You never know with movies. It's kind of like alchemy; the chemistry just didn't work. It had all the right actors. It had a great director, a great script. But I think the tone of the comedy was very odd. It almost read better than it played. It wanted to be a quirky, British, Black Adder type of comedy, and here we had Chris Farley and Matthew Perry. It was just a weird combination.-- Denise Di Novi