Writers, including our own Jami Bernard, were quick to point out that the commercial, which used footage from 1995's Tommy Boy, essentially came off as a cruel and shameless exploitation of deceased actor Chris Farley.
Although Spade has repeatedly stated that he considered the commercial a tribute to Farley, he recently told People magazine that "The movie is important to me, and I would hate to offend [anyone] because that's one of my favorite things I've ever done. So I would apologize to someone who took it that way." He went on to state that "I wouldn't want anyone to get a whiff that I'm trying to get something off Chris."
As Bernard pointed out on WalletPop, the Farley estate was complicit in the ad. Farley's brothers have already received $25,000 for a billboard bearing his likeness; presumably, they accepted a lot more cash for this ad.
While some of this money has gone to support the Chris Farley Foundation, which uses humor to combat teen substance abuse, it still feels exploitative. Speaking personally, the DirecTV commercial generally leaves me feeling like I need to take a shower.
On one level, it is easy to see how Spade might have been surprised by the popular reaction to the commercial. In his films, he generally plays characters who are snotty, smug, and offhandedly cruel. What makes them palatable is that they eventually emerge as vulnerable, wounded and basically decent. It's a process that enables Spade's characters to brutalize others, yet come off in a positive light.
This theme is particularly obvious in Tommy Boy. All through the film, Spade's character, Richard, covers his own pain, resentment and sense of loss by being cruel to Farley's character. By the end of the movie, however, Richard admits to Tommy that he considers the large boy-child to be one of his few friends. In that vulnerable moment, Spade manages to downplay the spikiness for a moment, allowing a sincere sentiment to emerge and giving his character a depth that the actor rarely reaches.
In the DirecTV ad, Spade seems to be going through the same process. In the beginning, as Farley begins playing with the blue blazer, Spade turns to the camera and sneers "Great. I'm here with tons-of-fun when I could be home watching DirecTV."
The insult, which stung in the movie, is even more painful here, as Farley can't defend himself, laugh it off, or otherwise turn the scene to his advantage.
However, at the end of the ad, when Farley rips the jacket, Spade softens his customary smirk and says "Ha ha, never gets old." For a moment, the viewer can see what seems like real emotion as Spade expresses admiration for Farley's comic stylings.
From Spade's perspective, this might have been a collapsed version of the movie, and a real tribute to his friend. The trouble is, from this side of the screen, it just looks like a baldfaced attempt to rip off a dead actor for a few cheap bucks.