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The buddy system: Farley and Spade

In ”Black Sheep,” Chris Farley and David Spade show some team spirit

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Despite all the crises in its 220-year history, America has never suffered a shortage of adolescent boys. For this, Hollywood is grateful. Studio executives can always count on the Clearasil set to fork over its milk money for pratfalls, head bonks, and fart jokes. Witness Black Sheep.

Dismissed by critics and barely noticed by anyone who holds down a full-time job, Chris Farley and David Spade’s 86-minute paean to slapstick and cranial crushing nonetheless topped the box office in its first weekend, grossing a far-from-moronic $10.6 million and lobbing a spitball at The Juror, which opened in second place. Moreover, combined with the rather smart $32.7 million take for last year’s Tommy Boy, Sheep may very well have hurled the ex-Saturday Night Live comrades (Farley left the cast last year) into a time-honored pantheon of comedy duos, joining an illustrious crew that ranges from Laurel & Hardy to Cheech & Chong.

”When I was growing up, there were Martin & Lewis and Abbott & Costello,” muses Black Sheep director Penelope Spheeris. ”This generation hasn’t seen this kind of thing. But people just love to see these guys having a good time.”

Studios love it too. ”We’ve been sent everything,” says Spade, 31, who’s surprisingly casual about his newfound desirability. ”People have taken their scripts and rewritten them for us. I think we got sent Waiting to Exhale, a story about white guys with women problems.”

Of course, with everyone chasing after this newest of dynamic duos, the $64,000 question is, do Farley and Spade themselves want to plumb the possibilities of eternal partnership? Hot as they are, they don’t have another doubles match in the works. The leviathan-size Farley, 31, is currently taking karate lessons for the tentatively titled Beverly Hills Ninja, and this summer he’ll shoot Edwards and Hunt, a pastoral Lewis-and-Clark parody that, conspicuously, does not feature Spade as Farley’s pioneering pardner. (Jeff Daniels and Bill Murray are among those being considered for the role.)

For his part, straight man Spade just wrapped a quicksilver cameo in A Very Brady Sequel and is mulling other solo offers. ”If you know anything about classic comedy teams,” theorizes Spheeris, ”they always have a desire to have distinct and separate identities. They want to be known as individuals.”

Or, as Dean Martin biographer Nick Tosches puts it, ”there’s always tension with comic duos.” Spade himself acknowledges some sniping with Farley on the set of Sheep. ”It gets hard when you make a film,” says Spade candidly. ”It’s hard to be with anyone. There was some personal tension from just working together, but we took some time off from each other after the shoot and it all settled down. We both realized we had to keep it together. We don’t want to ruin the hand that feeds us. People want us to be goofy and be friends.”

Regardless of whether Spade and Farley become best buds or bitter foes, Hollywood’s law of supply and demand probably has the upper hand. ”I’m confident there’ll be another Farley/ Spade teaming,” says Marc Gurvitz, manager to both actors. ”If there’s a great piece of material, they’ll do it. There’s not a studio in town that doesn’t want to develop for these guys.”

”We tapped into a vein,” Spade agrees. ”Now we’re looking for an artery.”