Tag: john candy

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Neal Page (Steve Martin), in New York City for a business trip, planned to arrive in Chicago two days before Thanksgiving to be with his family. However, the moment he steps outside the client’s building to catch a flight, things begin to go horribly awry: his taxi is taken by someone else, his first-class ticket turns out to be no good at all, the plane is diverted to land in Wichita due to severe weather conditions… And yet these series of unfortunate events are only the beginning.

Written and directed by John Hughes, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” hits a magic spot of being holiday-themed movie and a great comedy, full of laughs from beginning to end without sacrificing its quality due to varying shifts in tone. Equally impressive is the picture’s ability to take risks when it comes to the different types of humor. While it is mainly driven by situational and physical comedy, laughs can also be derived from mordant and character comedy.

The latter aspect works well due to Martin and and John Candy’s performances. Candy plays a man named Del Griffith who sells shower curtain rings for a living and is a perfect foil for Martin’s uptight and intolerant Neal, vice-versa. Although having two opposite personalities forced to spend time with one another is no stranger to comedies, the manner in which these characters interact and bond is special.

We get the impression that Neal and Del are essentially good men when apart but when together, the worst is brought out in one of them—not both. Having one character function as a wall against one who reacts in the most dramatic ways in addition to having the duo’s dynamics change subtly throughout the film—not just in the end just because conflicts must be resolved—becomes the heart of the picture. We end up caring about both of them. Notice the emotional impact of the final two or three scenes.

In terms of execution, one element that stands out is the way the writer-director utilizes the camera as a way to see through a character’s eyes. Take note of the sequence that takes place in the streets of NYC as Neal becomes increasingly desperate to book a cab. The camera adopts a subjective view—its movement brisk, energetic, full of alarm. Another sequence involves Neal noticing there is only one bed in the motel room that he and Del have booked. It makes sense that the former is shown to be highly competitive due to the nature of his occupation. Not once is Del shown to be as aggressive.

In addition to its perfectly cast duo, leading performances, and sharp writing, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” offers a number of colorful characters that never overstay their welcome. The car rental agent (Edie McClurg), the stereotypical hillbilly with a pregnant wife (Dylan Baker), and the man who races Neal for a taxi (Kevin Bacon) are especially hilarious. The movie offers that warm, special feeling of holiday, friendship, and family—seemingly easy to accomplish but many movies of its type end up floundering.


Stripes (1981)
★★ / ★★★★

John (Bill Murray) was so sick of being a taxi driver, he abandoned his rude customer in the middle of a bridge and threw away the key in the water. After he tells his girlfriend what he had just done, she tells him that their relationship is over. Desperate for direction, a U.S. Army recruitment commercial appears on television. John becomes convinced that enlisting is an excellent idea, but there is no way he is going to sign up alone. So, he persuades the dependable but equally dissatisfied Russell (Harold Ramis), his best friend, to enlist with him.

Although “Stripes,” written by Len Blum, Daniel Goldberg, and Harold Ramis, is set in the military for the most part, its technique in terms of how to deliver the comedy involves throwing random jokes on screen to see what would stick. This is very unreliable: the ones that work are really funny but the ones that fail to inspire even a hint of a smile come across as filler. The unsatisfying jokes outnumber those with wit and sense of irony which results in a very mix bag.

What I found reliable, however, are the performances. Murray is very entertaining as a goofball who is convinced that military training will be a breeze because, unlike holding a job, it does not have to be taken seriously. He is sarcastic and appropriately annoying at times which inspires Sergeant Hulka (Warren Oates) take notice of him in a negative way. When the two are at each other’s throats, the screenplay has spark and energy. While the camera stays in one place during their arguments, I noticed that I could not help zeroing in on their faces and wondering, “Oh, you’re going to take what that guy just said?”

I enjoyed listening to them bicker. If there had been more scenes of control being forced upon John, the material would have been more amusing because John absolutely despises authority. The more someone holds onto him, the wilder he becomes. And just when we think John has learned from a situation and has gained a bit more maturity, he proves that one cannot teach an old dog new tricks.

John Candy as Ox, another volunteer recruit, is enjoyable to watch particularly the scene when he wrestles five or six women in the mud. There are times, however, when I wondered if the writing would stop using his size and weight as a source of comedy. I sensed an intelligence in Ox, thanks to Candy for bothering to put a enough subtlety in his character, but I felt as though Ox is not given a chance to become more than just the fat guy in the army. The joke turns stale quickly because it is one-dimensional.

Lastly, the picture, directed by Ivan Reitman, completely falls apart in the third act. When the 3rd Platoon Bravo Company arrive in Czechoslovakia, everyone except for John, Russell, Stella (P.J. Soles), and Louise (Sean Young), the latter two a part of the military police, ends up with having no mind of their own. Didn’t anyone learn anything from their training in boot camp? Just because the picture is a comedy of errors, it does not justify allowing the characters to act dumb when we know that they are smarter than what the scene minimally requires.