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Anyone remember ages back when I suggested I might do a John Hughes retrospective? Well I've been working my way through the movies he directed.

I've come to realise with this sort of thing that it's a bad idea to start with the earlier films. Directors need a big break when they get started or they'd never make it big, so they are more likely to have high quality films towards the start of their careers than towards the end. In the case of movie series it is harder to mix things up, but saving the Platinum Dunes reboot til last tends to finish things on a pretty sour note (as I discovered when reviewing the Friday the 13th movies).

So with this series of movies I decided to work my way backwards, starting with "Curly Sue".

Curly Sue (1991)

Jim Belushi isn't the best comedian ever, but he does a pretty good job here in his team up with a young girl. The two are living on the streets and working together on scams to keep themselves out of poverty.

However, when they scam one particular rich lawyer who works out what is really going on, she decides that she is going to help to ensure that Curly has a real childhood.

Alison Porter does a great job as the quirky character of Curly Sue and there are a reasonable number of genuine laughs in here. Unfortunately, there are also an unfortunately large number of jokes involving people being hit in the head, which weren't really terribly effective.

The film seems pretty dated and I have a sneaking suspicion that it would have seemed that way even at the time. Still, and perhaps this is partly because I was expecting the worst, I found this movie quite appealing. It was rather underplaying genuine real life problems of poverty and child welfare, but then again it would have a tough time remaining funny if it tackled them realistically and head-on.

Still, I didn't feel like the ending was entirely necessary. There'll be no spoilers here, as per usual, but there's a clue as to where things were going in the plot description:
"A homeless man and his young companion who survive by conning people meet a woman who may need them even more than they need her."
Is the female lawyer supposed to be furthering her career or raising children? (Naturally there's no WAY she could be doing both. Right, RIGHT? *groan!*)

There was potential for this to be a much better film. It's actually quite entertaining so long as you don't get wound up by the ending. Some of the humour where people aren't getting hit in the head is pretty good. The central child actress is actually chewing the scenery most of the way through the film. But it is inescapable that this film is deeply average and badly dated.


Uncle Buck (1989)

The suggestion of the premise is that the eponymous Buck (played by John Candy) is going to cause havoc when he enters a typical home. My concern was rather more with how I was going to keep my sanity when forced to spend time with the whiney children.

Some earlier scenes emphasising Buck's slobbiness and general ineptness felt rather flat to me, but where the film worked rather better, I felt, were the scenes where Buck decides to be strict with his rude-and-annoying-as-hell niece.

Quite a few scenes feel more awkward than funny. I'm not entirely impressed with Buck's decision to threaten a teacher for pointing out his child's poor behaviour. Also, even if you are so accurate with a golf ball that you can whack one into someone's head, you'll probably be in prison for murder afterwards.

This was a seriously mixed-bag. I think this had potential, but in making Uncle Buck both entirely inept AND a capable parent, the film never quite persuades me that those two qualities belong to the same person. There's some kind of Jekyll/Hyde switching going on between scenes.


At this point I decided to skip "She's Having A Baby". I mean just look at the title! I didn't miss out the film. I saw it later. But at this stage I desperately needed a REALLY good John Hughes film to put things into perspective.

So at this stage I skipped straight to "Planes, Trains And Automobiles" which has over 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. Now finally I could see what a really good quality John Hughes movie was like....

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

What... the hell... was this?

The main roles here are played by Steve Martin and John Candy. I've not seen much with John Candy, but I've seen several films with Steve Martin and he's never really impressed me much. The big exception to the rule seems to be the film "Bowfinger" where I thought Martin was hilarious. "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" is not a new exception to that rule.

There are plenty of points here where I can tell that the film is trying to be funny and can even recognise a few gags in advance. A lot of the humour is slapstick, just like in the two previous films, but on top of that there's some rather dodgy homophobic humour here - starting when Candy and Martin find themselves having to share a bed. (What hijinks!)

"Planes, Trains and Automobiles" has everything I hate about American comedies. Both actors will occasionally shout their lines to ensure you realise that it's supposed to be funny. Steve Martin makes a lot of silly faces to show how upset he is about the various bad things that happen to him in the hopes of eliciting a laugh.

What is missing is any real reason to care about what is happening. Steve Martin's character is hard to relate to because he's shown quite clearly to be an arsehole from the start. John Candy's character is hard to relate to because he's put forward as creepy and inconsiderate right from the start. The big drive for the plot is supposed to be Martin getting home to his family for Thanksgiving, but we never really get to know anything about the family - such as why they would be interested in seeing Steve Martin's character there.

I made the effort to watch this film right to end in the hopes that it would eventually click and I would understand the high praise it had received. It never happened. It was tiring to watch this film and it was also rather upsetting since I had been really looking forward to this. I didn't need it to be better than "Curly Sue". I just needed it to be entertaining and to have engaging characters. I wasn't expecting one of the worst comedies I have ever seen.




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