Category Archives: Movies for the Whole Family

The Gods Must Be Crazy II (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Misadventures in the desert.

Xiri (Eiros) and Xisa (Nadies) are the two children of Xixo (N!xau) and a part of a nomadic desert tribe of the Kalahari who go roaming off into the wilderness and encounter a truck driven by two elephant poachers (Lourens Swanepoel, Pierre van Pletzen). Having had no previous contact with modern technology the children become fascinated with the vehicle and climb into its water tank just as it drives off taking them many miles away from their home. When the children fail to return their father goes out looking for them and in the process comes into contact with a lawyer (Lena Farugia) and a zoologist (Hans Strydom) who are stranded after their small engine plane crashes as well as two soldiers (Erick Bowen, Treasure Tshabalala) fighting from opposite sides of the war and each precariously trying to get the upper hand on the other.

This follow-up to the run away hit was filmed in October, 1985, but took over 4 years to find a distributor and suffered many setbacks during its production, which frustrated writer/director Jamie Uys so much that he retired from directing after completing this one and never worked on another film. On the whole though it’s not too bad, but like with the first one it does start out a bit clumsily.

My biggest complaint had to do with the scenes dealing with the lady lawyer named Ann and her interactions with the macho pilot/zoologist Hans who takes her up in the plane, which to me became too sexist and too similar to the scenario played-out in the first film where a lady-in-distress being rescued by a male character more acclimated to the environment. However, in the first film this was funny because the male was so clumsy and inept it made him seem more like a lovable clod, but here the guy character resembles the male image, especially with his mustache, of the Marlboro man and his constant aggravation at this ‘ditzy lady’ isn’t amusing while her inability to understand technology played too much into the feminine stereotype that women can’t comprehend machinery must have a man come to their rescue.

I did find the small engine plane that they rode in, which was a modified Lazair Ultralight, fascinating as I found it interesting at how something so small and flimsy could carry two people and still get off the ground, but was disappointed to learn later that this was only because it got attached to a crane and in reality wouldn’t have flown. Although the filmmakers achieve this illusion pretty well the scene where the two fly above the clouds is clearly fake as you can tell the backdrop of the sky is a painting and in that regards the whole plane scene, especially since it really couldn’t fly anyways, should’ve been discarded and some other plot line created that would’ve brought the two together.

The two runaway children though are quite cute especially the frightened but resourceful little boy who grabs a nearby piece of wood to put on top of his head to fool the hyena that has been stalking him into thinking that he is taller than he really is, which actually ends up working. I was also most impressed with the scenes dealing the Honey Badger, which is known for its ferocious defensive abilities and lives up to its reputation here when he grabs a hold of Hans boot with his teeth and refuses to let go no matter how far Hans walks.

The last half-hour when all the various characters from the four divergent story lines eventually merge is when the film finally manages to hit its stride and it’s a shame this couldn’t have occurred sooner, but ultimately as a sequel it’s surprisingly funny and manages to retain much of the same charm from the first one.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 13, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jamie Uys

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, YouTube

The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Coke bottle causes problems.

One day while flying over the Kalahari desert a airplane pilot inadvertently throws a coke bottle out of his cockpit window, which falls to earth and is found by Xi (N!xau) and he brings it back to his nomadic tribe. At first everyone is intrigued with the object as they are an isolated people unaware of modern technology. They think it’s a ‘gift from the gods’ and make use of the bottle in different and creative ways, but eventually the bottle causes friction from within the tribe because there is only one and no one wants to share it. Xi decides to ‘give the bottle back to the gods’ by traveling to the end of the earth and throwing it off. During his journey he meets a clumsy biologist named Andrew Steyn (Marius Weyers) and a pretty school teacher named Kate (Sandra Prinsloo) while also saving school children who are kidnapped by a group of terrorists led by Sam (Louw Verwey).

This film became the biggest box office success in South African history and when released abroad became the most successful foreign film in the U.S., but the film initially comes off like a nature documentary complete with monotone voice-over narration by Paddy O’Byrne only to then shift uneasily into a flick dealing with political revolutionaries who systematically massacre the heads of state via machine gun. It’s not until about 30 minutes in that the gentle comical flow of the story gets going, but even then there’s a lot of sped up stop action photography, dubbed voices, and a cartoonish sounding musical score that gives it a choppy amateurish feel throughout.

Yet despite all this the concept is quite original and filled with genuinely funny moments. Writer/director Jamie Uys, who appears briefly as a Reverend, shows an amazing ability to squeeze laughs out of virtually any scene and sometimes in the most amazing of ways. Some of my favorite moments was when the jeep hangs upside down in a tree, or the scene showing the same disabled jeep getting tugged along by another vehicle and because the desert was so flat and barren the man driving the vehicle is able to get out of it and it simply drives itself with no fear it would run into anything. The shot where N!xau arrives at what he thinks is the end of the earth, but in reality is a place known as God’s Window is quite memorable and picturesque as well.

Of course the film does come with its fair share of controversy and accused of being racist with two countries, Trinidad and Tobago, banning the movie from being shown there because of it. The main complaint centers around the bushmen tribe that N!xau comes from being shown as completely cut-off from the modern world and unsophisticated when in reality this is not true. The 2004 Columia TriStar DVD edition has a wonderful documentary called ‘Journey to Nyae Nyae’ on its bonus section where a filmmaker travels to the real-life desert bushmen tribe that actor/star N!xau resided and found that although the people were quite poor they were far from ignorant and in fact excitedly embraced technology like a computer when it was shown to them. There’s even a really cute segment where the children get shown this film and laugh along at all the same antics just like American audiences.

This same documentary also has a very sad edge to it as it shows the impoverished life N!xau had even after the film became a worldwide hit. While the movie grossed over 200 million N!xau was only paid $2,000 for his work and the other actors who played the bushmen got paid nothing. Director Uys tried to rectify this by paying N!xau many years later an additional $20,000 and a monthly stipend, but by then he had already become sick with tuberculosis and ended up dying from it in 2003.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: September 10, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jamie Uys

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Bye Bye Birdie (1963)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen idol gets drafted.

Based on the hit stageplay of the same name, the story deals with Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson) a rock ‘n’ roll teen idol who gets drafted into the army.  As a big send off Conrad is chosen to perform in Sweet Apple, Ohio on the Ed Sullivan Show. As a special treat one lucky teen girl (Ann-Margaret) gets picked to give him a kiss while he sings the song ‘One Last Kiss’ written by Albert (Dick Van Dyke) a fledgling songwriter who hopes that the publicity of having a song sung by a big star will be just the ticket he needs to find success and enable him to finally marry his secretary (Janet Leigh) and get away from the clutches of his meddlesome mother (Maureen Stapleton).

The story was loosely based on the real-life incident in 1957 when Elvis Presley got drafted and in fact the part was originally intended for him, but his agent turned it down. While some may consider the humor here to be engaging satire I really felt it was lame and uninspired and only saved by the song and dance sequences. My main gripe was the way the teens get portrayed as being overly clean-cut kids, no leather jacket crowd here who smoked cigarettes even though they did exist, who are too benign and show no evidence of individuality. It would’ve been nice for the sake of balance to have at least one girl that was not into the rock star and didn’t faint or swoon the second she saw him, like all the others, and instead looked on with disdain at everyone who did.

While I did like Janet Leigh, who wears a black wig, and enjoyed her dance number at a Shriner’s convention I did feel overall that the adults here, with the exception of Paul Lynde, were boring and not needed. Van Dyke again gets straddled in another Rob Petrie type role who shows no pizzazz and having him a ‘mama’s boy’ at the age of 38 is more pathetic than funny. What’s worse is that Stapleton who plays his mother was in reality Van Dyke’s same age and despite some white in her hair really didn’t look that old and having the part played by an actual old lady would’ve given it more distinction.

The story should’ve centered around the teens, but in a more interesting way by entering into all the side dramas that almost always occur in these types of situations, but doesn’t get explored here. For instance there could’ve been some jealous classmates of Ann-Margaret’s upset that she got picked to kiss Birdie and not them and devised a scheme to ruin her big moment, or having all the boys, who admitted to hating Birdie because their girlfriends were so into him and not them, kidnapping him in revenge.

Despite having his name in the title Birdie has only a few lines of dialogue and needed more to do than just swiveling his hips, which becomes a derivative running joke. One idea would be to have him scared about going off to the army and secretly coming up with a plan with his fans to go undercover, so he could escape going, which would’ve added more depth to the satire, which is too placid, by showing how celebrities in private can be the opposite of their public image.

Beyond my many grievances with the story, which is even more flimsy than most musicals, I still found the songs, dances, and colorful sets to be fun and Paul Lynde has a few great lines. If one watches it for the musical quality while treating it as a relic of its time then it should still go over modestly well.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 4, 1963

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: George Sidney

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Oh, God! Book II (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: God returns to earth.

Tracy (Louanne) is an 11-year-old girl who one day meets God (George Burns) when he invites her via a fortune cookie into the lounge of a Chinese restaurant where he asks her to help him spread the word that he exists. She then, with the help of her friends, creates posters that say ‘Think God’ which she puts up all over town, but this gets her suspended from school and then her parents (David Birney, Suzanne Pleshette) consider having her sent to a mental hospital after she keeps insisting that she’s spoken to the Almighty directly.

This follow-up to the 1977 hit lacks the freshness and originality of the first. The studio had initially wanted the John Denver character to return, but the producers insisted they wanted a ‘fresh start’ and not just continue the storyline from the first film. While the characters are different, the plot line remain the same causing the film to come-off like a boring reworking of the first one instead of a continuation.

Louanne, who now goes by Louanne Sirota, is adorable, which helps, but her hairstyle looks like something out of the 1940’s. She also believes in God right from the start even before she meets him, which doesn’t allow for any type of interesting character arch. It’s also quite  hard to believe that her ‘Think God’ poster campaign would have any affect and that a nonbeliever would somehow suddenly become a raging theist after spotting one of the amateurish looking signs.

Another issue is the God character who is full of idiosyncrasies. For one thing the concept of evolution gets glossed over and the film makes it like how we see things now in regards to animal and plant life is exactly how God envisioned them when they were created at the beginning of time. He also mentions having to sometimes sneeze, but why would a spirit need to do that? At another point he talks about answering phone calls, but why would there be telephones in Heaven?

It’s also confusing why God, who is supposedly an omnipotent being that knows what each person is thinking and feeling would need the help of a young child in order to ‘reach people’. He also seems like a cruel jerk as he coaxes this girl into this ad campaign, which puts her into a very traumatic situation as it gets her suspended from school and even on the brink of being put into an institution. If God is all-powerful why can’t he simply make himself appear on everyone’s TV at the same time in order to let everyone know that he exists instead of putting a young child through such unnecessary stress?

The humor is lacking and the only funny lines are the ones dealing with the big breasts of David Birney’s girlfriend (Denise Galik). I also didn’t understand why the word book gets put into the film’s title as there was never any second Oh God! novel written. Was this supposed to be a play-on-words in regards to the books of the Bible? If so then that joke, like just about everything else in the film, falls flat.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gilbert Cates

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Summer Rental (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Family vacations in Florida.

Jack (John Candy) is an over-worked air traffic controller who’s given a 5-week vacation to rest up. He decides to take his family down to Florida, but things prove to be even more chaotic there. First they move into the wrong rental property and then Jack has a confrontation with local sailing champion Al Pellet (Richard Crenna) who is a longtime resident that openly disdains the renters who visit during the summer. When Pellet gets ownership of the property that Jack is renting and threatens to throw Jack’s family out Jack decides to challenge him to a sailboat race even though his experience in sailing is limited.

Initially this movie comes off as a welcome change of pace from the typical 80’s comedy that usually dwelt too heavily in crude jokes and adolescent humor. Outside of one segment where a neighbor lady wants John to touch her breasts, which the viewer doesn’t see, to see how much he likes her new implants there’s no sexual innuendos at all, which is genuinely surprising since most 80’s comedies, even the tamer ones, seemed to feel the need to throw at least a few in. I even like the kids here. In most films they’re played-up in too cutesy of a way, or they’re obnoxious brats, but here the balance is just right.

The story though goes nowhere. The original idea was based on a vacation experience that producer Bernie Brillstein had in Southern California where he was a father of 5 children that rented a beach home that had two elderly sisters and a mentally challenged son as his neighbors on one side and a group of gay men on the other side, but none of these elements appear in the movie, which for the most part is uneventful.

Candy’s confrontations with Crenna, whose portrayal of a snobby, rich man is too broad of a caricature, are forced and not funny. Their climactic sailing race doesn’t work either. Sailing can certainly be a relaxing excursion, but watching it as a sporting event is not exciting. It also has Candy and his crew dumping out the contents of a freezer and eventually the entire freezer itself into the lake in an effort to get their boat to sail faster, but this is also obvious water pollution and not something a protagonist in a film should be doing.

Candy gives an appealing performance as usual and Rip Torn is fun as an aging ship captain although having him walk around with an actual hook for a hand is a bit much.  Some may even enjoy seeing Joey Lawrence when he was still a cute kid, but the plot, much like stagnant water, just sits there and the pace is too breezy making the material hardly worthy of a feature length production.

There’s also a glaring logic loophole that involves Candy and his family staying at what they think is their rental property only to be awoken in the middle of the night by the homeowners and told they were at the wrong place, but how were the keys that they were given able to open the locks on the doors if it was not the right home? They also were able to retrieve the keys from the mailbox of the place, which is where they were told they’d find them, but if that wasn’t the right house then the keys should not have been there.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 9, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Stoogemania (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Too much Three Stooges.

Howard F. Howard (Josh Mostel) is a man suffering from an obsession with the Three Stooges and it’s starting to affect his daily life and even is impending marriage to Beverly (Melanie Chartoff). He finds others that are having the same problem and the only way to cure it is to commit himself to Stooge Hills Sanitarium where he and others like him hope to rid themselves of their ailment through proper psychiatric care, but only if the inmates don’t overrun the asylum first.

It may seem hard to believe, but during the 80’s the Three Stooges franchise enjoyed a renaissance mainly due to its reruns being shown on TBS and the hit 1984 novelty song ‘The Curly Shuffle’. Personally I don’t get what the enjoyment is and  like with ‘Gilligan’s Island’ that somehow caught on with later generations, but in my opinion should’ve been forgotten instead. To me it’s just a lot of inane humor and predictable antics. If you’re 4 their routines might seem ‘hilarious’, but beyond that it most likely would bore anyone else and yet in the 80’s they were people out there that couldn’t get enough of the stooges including a former dentist of mine who had collected all of their film shorts.

If put in the imaginative hands of someone like Tim Burton this concept might’ve  worked, but with Chuck Workman at the helm it sinks fast. Workman has had a lot of success in directing documentaries and even won some awards for them, but his heart clearly wasn’t into this one. I almost wondered if he himself even enjoyed The Three Stooges or was just vomiting out some substandard product simply to collect a paycheck. The humor lacks even a modicum of cleverness and amounts to people acting incredibly stupid and equating this as being ‘funny’. No where is this more painfully evident then in the wedding scene that has first grade level pratfalls coupled with the dumb facial reactions from the actors and annoying cartoon-like sound effects, that are so stupid it starts to make the actual Three Stooges clips of which there are many that get shown here, seem brilliant by comparison.

Mostel is weak in the lead and had it actually been his father Zero Mostel, who had been cast here it would’ve done better. Zero had great ability to play off the camera and wonderful facial expressions and reactions that could keep even the worst of movies that he was in fun, but his son comes-off like some fat blob of a guy who got into the business simply by riding on his father’s coattails. Besides, if this is supposed to be a parody of the Three Stooges then why not have three men in the lead instead of just one?

There’s a host of other famous faces that drop in and out here including: Thom Sharp (who actually is kind of funny here), Sid Caesar, Victoria Jackson and Bill Kirchenbauer, but none of them can save this disaster that amounts to being an embarrassment even to the name of the Three Stooges and will most likely disappoint even those that enjoy them.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: October 10, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 23 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Chuck Workman

Studio: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

Available: VHS

Where the Red Fern Grows (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid raises two hounds.

Billy Colman (Stewart Petersen) is a 12-year-old boy living on a farm in rural Oklahoma during the depression. He becomes obsessed with owning a coon hound which he can train to hunt raccoons. His family is too poor to buy him one, so he spends his summer doing a number of odd jobs until he’s finally able to buy two Redbone Coonhound puppies, which he raises and trains into becoming championship hunting dogs.

The film is based on the 1961 novel by Wilson Rawls, who provides the opening voice-over narration and the script here closely follows the action of the book. It was directed by Norman Tokar, who seemed to specialize in stories of young boys bonding with their pets as he also directed the film versions of Big Red and Rascal. The production was clearly done on the low budget side, which is distracting at first, but eventually meshes with the stark, rural, and economically challenged setting quite nicely.

While the story seems believable enough and may open some viewer’s eyes, such as my own, to the sport of coon hunting, which still thrives today in certain parts of the country, I found certain elements of it to be hard to believe.  For instance Billy decides to walk all the way from his lonely farmhouse to the town of Tahlequah, which is 30 miles away and apparently able to do it in one day. I was also not sure how he would be able to find the town since he did not travel along any type of highway or road, but instead trudged through open fields and without the benefit of either a map or a compass.

The scene where Billy intentionally trips a nasty boy by the name of Rubin (Rex Corley) which causes the kid to fall on the ax that he is carrying and dies seemed questionable from a modern day viewpoint simply because everybody believes the story that Billy tells them and no charges were made. The film and book, which I remember reading in the 6th grade and in fact this is the only part of the story that I remembered, portray this as being an unintentional accident, which it was. However, these days the kid could potentially be put on trial for manslaughter charges especially since there was clearly bad blood between the two, but maybe it is a testament of simpler times that everyone, including seemingly the victim’s parents, believe the story he tells them without question, but in any other era that might not have been the case.

I found it interesting to see Beverly Garland, whom I first became aware of when she played Fred MacMurray’s second wife in the TV-show ‘My Three Sons’ and who looked quite middle-aged then, but for some reasons gets cast here as a young housewife and manages to somehow pull it off despite nearing 50 at the time. Petersen though, who got cast after a long auditioning process of over 500 candidates, is only adequate, but doesn’t quite hit the mark especially with his inability to convey anything other than one facial expression. I also thought the coonskin cap that he ends up wearing made him come off looking like a Davy Crockett or Daniel Boone Jr. although maybe back in the day that was considered ‘cool’.

Certain animal right’s activists of today may not take kindly to what was once considered just a ‘charming’ coming-of-age tale. Although no actual killing of any animal is ever shown it is certainly heavily implied. It got to the point where I started to feel sorry for the raccoons particularly during the hunting competition where night after night different hunters would go out into the forest to see how any many they could catch and then come back with the numerous pelts that they skinned from them making me wonder if there could possible be any raccoons left to kill.

Spoiler Alert!

The film though does manage to end on a strong note although even here this gets botched because as the family goes to the dog’s grave to see this magical red fern growing on top of it we also see a big boom microphone hanging down from the top of the screen , which completely sucks all the magic right out of the scene. This same story was remade in 2003 and in 2018 a 45-minute documentary was released showing behind-the-scenes footage/stills of the movie as it was being made and also featuring interviews with the actors.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 21, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Norman Tokar

Studio: Doty-Dayton Releasing

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

My Favorite Year (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Babysitting an alcoholic actor.

The year is 1954 and Benjy (Mark Linn-Baker), who works as a junior writer at a top rated TV variety show, is put in charge of babysitting a famous matinee idol named Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole) who is set to guest star on an episode of the show. Alan is a well known alcoholic who usually finds a way to stay constantly inebriated and it’s Benjy’s job to keep him sober, which proves challenging.

The first 30 minutes of the film has some snappy dialogue and a fast, engaging pace. It’s loosely based on a real-life incident where Mel Brooks, then working as a young writer on the TV-show ‘Your Show of Shows’, was put in charge of watching Errol Flynn and making sure he stayed away from the bottle, which he apparently did making the comic situations that occur here highly fabricated.

Unfortunately by the middle half it starts to lose steam and never fully recovers. It works best during the scenes where Baker and O’Toole are together, which is where the story should’ve stayed. Instead it unwisely tries to work in a ridiculous romantic side-story between Baker and Jessica Harper, which isn’t interesting at all and even slightly creepy as Harper has clearly stated she’s not interested in getting into a relationship with him and yet he continues to pursue her and even gets jealous and acts like he ‘owns’ her when he sees her with another guy.

The film also doesn’t take enough advantage of Joseph Bologna who plays the narcissistic/ego-driven star of the show that was apparently based on Sid Caesar. Nobody can play a brash, arrogant, obnoxious guy quite like Bologna and still manage to somehow remain likable and engaging in the process, so when you got him in the cast and in top form you should use his skills to its full potential, which this film doesn’t.

The Swan character ultimately gets overblown. I didn’t have a problem with his extreme drunkenness at the start, but he begins to behave too much like some overgrown man-child like when he impulsively jumps onto a policemen’s horse and rides it for no particular reason almost like he’s from a completely different planet and no longer even slightly resembling an actual person who must deal with real consequences. Watching him meltdown without restraint when he realizes he’ll be put on live television makes him pathetic and lacking even a modicum of professionalism. Anyone as emotionally fragile as he is would never even have a chance in the real Hollywood where one must put up a tough front in order to survive in it.

Richard Benjamin’s directorial debut isn’t bad, but it does have two glaring flaws. One occurs when Baker and O’Toole are on the rooftop of a building and their images are matted over a green screen, which causes orbs to appear around their heads, which is distracting and amateurish looking.  Another one comes when at the end O’Toole saves Bologna, who’s getting beat up by some thugs on live TV, by slashing the bad guy’s clothes with his sword, which wouldn’t occur since stage props don’t actually use real blades.

The brief appearances by the raspy voiced Selma Diamond and Cameron Mitchell are gems and the film also manages to work in a few poignant moments, which is nice. Overall though the concept gets stretched too thin and becomes too cute for its own good.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 8, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Benjamin

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, YouTube

The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bumbling buddies cause havoc.

Amos and Theodore (Tim Conway, Don Knotts) are two former members of an outlaw gang who are now trying to go straight, but as they enter the western boom town of Junction City they find their hopes of living life free of their old criminal ways to be dashed when they get mistakenly accused of robbing the town’s bank. They go on the run from the town’s relentless sheriff (Kenneth Mars) by enlisting in the United States Calvary, but accidentally cause a fire there that ends up burning the whole fort down and getting them into even more trouble.

This very weak sequel to  The Apple Dumpling Gang, has little to recommend and barely any connection to the first one. Besides Knotts and Conway no one from the original cast appears here except for Harry Morgan who plays an entirely different character. It was also the kids in the first film that were called the Apple Dumpling gang and not the two bumbling men, which just cements how unnecessary this film really is.

It’s not like any of the cast from the original film was all that memorable, but they at least helped balance the story from being just one long inane slapstick act, which is all you end up getting here. Knotts and Conway can be good comic relief in brief sporadic spurts, but trying to tie a whole movie around their bumbling act makes it quite one-dimensional.

The supporting cast isn’t any good either with Tim Matheson as bland and transparent as ever as a heroic officer and his romance with the feisty Elyssa Davalos is formulaic and cliched to the extreme. Mars goes overboard with the arrogant sheriff who goes crazy act until it becomes just as annoying and overdone as everything else in the film.

I’ll admit as a child I thought this movie was entertaining, but as an adult I got bored almost immediately despite finding the first installment to be genuinely enjoyable. Part of the problem is that the first one was based on a novel and had an actual story mixed in with the gags while this one is centered exclusively on extreme coincidences to help propel its thin plot along while throwing in slapstick bits that are predictable and unoriginal.

The only thing that surprised me at all was seeing Conway get top billing even though Knotts displayed a wider acting range while Conway merely stands around looking perpetually befuddled. Knotts also had the majority of lines and a little more dimension to his comedy while Conway just acts like a cross-eyed dope, which to me got boring real fast.

I understand that these films have a certain nostalgic appeal for those adults who remember watching it as a kid, but I honestly think that appeal will wear off quickly after about 5 minutes. If you’re under 10 you may like it better, but others should beware.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: June 27, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Vincent McEveety

Studio: Buena Vista 

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Great Outdoors (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Friends ruin their vacation.

Chet (John Candy) decides to take his wife (Stephanie Faracy) and two kids (Chris Young, Ian Michael Giatti) on a well deserved family outing up to a lake resort town in Wisconsin. Unfortunately their fun excursion  gets crashed by their obnoxious friend Roman (Dan Aykroyd) and his wife Kate (Annette Bening) who along with their two creepy twin daughters (Hilary Gordon, Rebecca Gordon) proceed to turn the pleasant vacation into a nightmare.

Calling this John Hughes script paper thin is an understatement and it reminded me of an interview I once read where Hughes bragged that he could write his screenplays in a matter of only a day or two although with this one I’m surprised it took even that long. Not only is the premise devoid of any original ideas, but it seemed more like material for the Griswold family and I was confused why it wasn’t just made as part of the Vacation series although I preferred Candy over Chevy Chase as he’s much more likable without the sneering sarcasm, and his presence here helps make it at least modestly enjoyable.

The comedy also avoids becoming too farcical or lewd, which was nice, and manages to keep things semi-believable to what might occur to a regular family in the woods including my favorite part where the two men try to kill a bat that has gotten into the cabin. The setting, which was filmed on-location in Lake Bass, California is scenic and the woodsy cabin, built specifically for the film on a studio backlot, is impressive because you would never know the difference.

However, the animosity between the two characters, which is supposedly the heart of the humor, is not played-up enough or as half as much as I was expecting. In many ways it seemed almost like it was Candy who was more the obnoxious one particularly when he tells a scary story that gets everyone upset. The scene where he puts a candy bar on the hood of his car to attract a bear makes him look really stupid, and something that should’ve been done instead by the supposedly dopey second-banana character like Aykroyd.

The kids, especially the twin girls who seemed spookier than the twins in The Shining, are annoying and I thought it was weird that they are played-off as creepy for the majority of the film only to then near the end have the viewer expected to suddenly start caring for them when they get trapped in a cave.  As for the two boys they’re dull and transparent and the scenes dealing with the romance that the oldest one has with one of the teen waitresses (Lucy Deakins) are extremely formulaic and unnecessary and almost like it were put in simply to pad the runtime.

The running gag dealing with the talking raccoons is childish and the one dealing with a man (Britt Leach) constantly getting struck by lightning is completely ridiculous.  The story is nothing more than a procession of gags that lacks momentum or pace. The laughs are sporadic and subside after the 45-minute mark making the final half a chore to sit through and that includes the climactic bear attack, which is forced and over-the-top.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1988

Released: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Howard Deutch

Studio: Universal 

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube