February 8, 2014

The Great Outdoors

Howard Deutch, 1988
Chet Ripley (John Candy) is looking forward to spending some quality time with his family on their vacation in rural Wisconsin when his in-laws Roman (Dan Akroyd) and Kate (Annette Benning) suddenly show up expecting to join in on the fun.

The Great Outdoors is probably one of those films that you put on thinking you've never seen it before, and when it hits a couple of the key scenes you realize that you've seen it. The Old 96'er steakhouse scene. The bat loose in the house scene. Or perhaps the quintessential 80's romance scenes are enough to jog the memory. The point is, those comical scenes stand out in what's ultimately a rather forgettable film. While John Hughes has plenty of notable writing credits over the course of his career (Home Alone, Ferris Bueler's Day Off, The Breakfast Club), not all of them are winners (Curly Sue, Beethoven, Career Opportunities). The presence of two of the great Canadian imports Dan Akroyd and John Candy are certainly enough to pull you in. What's interesting with both of them is they do what they typically do, and as long as that's within the proper framework it's fine. Akroyd is always the fast-talking chubby(ish) robotically-toned force who relies on and shifts in accent and facial expression rather than slapstick comedy. Candy typically uses more physical comedy and is more limited as an actor, but is certainly more of a warm force on screen. There's a familiarity with him, a sentimentality. Whenever you see John Candy on screen it reminds you of how much you miss him. The Great Outdoors certainly has it's flaws. Distracting edits, poor set design, weak story, too much bear, too much raccoon subtitling. Why did they have to talk so much? At times the very heavy animal presence is as wearisome as watching bears pick through the garbage heap like they do in the film. Perhaps their was a SAG quota for animal trainers' working hours in 1988.

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