Tag Archives: John Candy

Brewster’s Millions (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: He spends thirty million.

Richard Pryor plays Monty Brewster a struggling baseball pitcher in the minor leagues who has never earned more than $11,000 in a year, but finally gets his chance to be rich via a deceased uncle (Hume Cronyn) who leaves him a vast fortune, but with conditions. He must spend $30 million in 30 days in order to get $300 million and if not whatever is left over from the unspent $30 million will be given over to a law firm. He is also given the option to accept $1 million upfront with no strings, but he chooses the challenge only to find that spending a lot of money is even harder than making it.

The film is based on the 1902 novel of the same name by George Barr McCutcheon and this marked the seventh film version of that story. The novel though does things differently. In that version Brewster has already inherited one million, but given the chance to attain seven million if can spend the one million during a full year, which is a little more believable. Watching Brewster trying to spend the 30 million on any dumb thing that comes along gets dizzying and hard to keep track of until it eventually plays itself out by becoming a one-joke concept throwing out the same punchline over-and-over. Why the amount was raised to 30 million and the time span to spend it shortened isn’t clear. Possibly it was for inflation or simply to make it ‘more comical’, but it ends up getting wildly overblown.

With so many people out there who are poor and desperate it’s hard to be sympathetic to Brewster’s dilemma. Spending a lot of money foolishly simply to serve his own greed and attain even more isn’t exactly a noble mission. Had he at least tried to spend it on things that could help others, like in the novel, it might’ve made a little more of an emotional impact. The Pryor character is also portrayed as having very little confidence and therefore I would think in reality he would’ve just accepted the million, which in his eyes would’ve been a lot of money anyways and never bothered to take the challenge, which most anyone else would’ve found monumental and impossible.

Pryor isn’t funny at all and John Candy is far more amusing as his loyal friend, but unfortunately isn’t seen enough. Stephen Collins is good as the duplicitous Warren Cox and this also marks David White’s final film appearance, who is best known for playing Larry Tate on ‘Bewitched’ and whose name is strangely not listed in the film’s opening credits despite having a major role. Yakov Smirnoff and Rick Moranis can also be seen in brief bits.

The film was directed by Walter Hill who later referred to this as ‘an aberration’ and having only done it to ‘improve his bank account’. His forte is in action flicks and his attempt at comedy turns terribly flat from its first frame to its last. It is also in many ways similar to Trading Places, which coincidentally was written by the same screenwriter Hershel Weingrod, but that film was far better.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Walter Hill

Studio: Universal

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

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

vacation

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Going on a trip.

Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) decides to drive his family of four from Chicago to California in order to visit the world famous amusement park of Wally World. Sure they could’ve flown, but he feels that getting there is ‘half the fun’, so they pack up their station wagon while losing their luggage along the way, running out of money, getting stranded in the desert and forced to take along the crabby Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) who makes everyone miserable.

The film is loaded with laugh-out-loud gags particularly at the beginning. I enjoyed the snapshots of touristy places that get shown over the opening credits as they look exactly like homemade pics stripped directly from somebody’s family album. Clark’s attempts to recreate their proposed trip on the computer only to have his animated station wagon eaten up by a Pacman-like monster is hilarious and imaginative. The scene showing him trying to get back into his old car after its been crushed, or falling asleep at the wheel and driving haphazardly off the road only to end up miraculously at a hotel are also quite good.

The screenplay was written by John Hughes and based on a story he wrote for the September 1979 issue of National Lampoon’s magazine. The plot nicely tackles all the problems that can occur on a typical family outing. Everything from having to visit boring in-laws to squabbling kids in the backseat get comically examined and most likely will remind everyone of their own family trips that started out fun, but turned into a nightmare.

I enjoyed seeing comic legends Eddie Bracken and Imogene Coca cast in supporting roles as well as other recognizable stars popping up for brief bits. This is also the best casting of Rusty and Audrey and watching the kids being the sensible ones while the Dad is more child-like is fun. However, their lack of appreciation for the song ‘Mockingbird’, which Chase and Beverly D’Angelo do an admirable rendition of, is outrageous even for teens and should’ve been enough to have them thrown into Lake Michigan immediately!

The script though begins to go off its hinges with the running joke involving supermodel Christie Brinkley. She plays a hot babe who seems for some strange reason to be attracted to middle-age schmuck Clark. The script was originally written to have this as Rusty’s sexual fantasy, which might’ve worked better, but as it is here it makes no sense.  The character drives so fast in her sporty red convertible that she should remain miles ahead of them and yet she is constantly repassing them almost like she’s a stalker and the odds that she would’ve coincidently been staying at the same hotel as them, out of the thousands that are out there, are astronomically slim. It all might’ve been saved, at least for the male viewers, had she gone nude, which was the original intent, but she refused. In either case it’s a boring bit that is not funny, or believable, or for that matter even sexy.

Spoiler Alert!

I also found the ending to be a letdown. The original one had Clark purchasing a BB gun and using it to invade the home owned by Wally (Eddie Bracken) after they find that his amusement park has been temporarily shut down and then forcing him and his associates to sing some songs before the SWAT team closes in. However, this ending rated poorly with test audiences so it was changed to where Clark and the family invade the park itself and force a security guard, amusingly played by John Candy, to take them on the rides while threatening him with the same type of BB gun.

Personally I disliked both endings because they are over-the-top and make little sense. There is no way that an amusement park would completely shut down for 2-weeks to make repairs especially in the middle of summer, which it is at the height of tourist season and risks too much of a loss of revenue. Certain individual rides may get shut down from time-to-time, but not the whole place. There is also never any explanation as to who is running the rides from the ground that the Griswolds and the security guard go on. Some may argue that it might be done by the black security guard, which is played by actor Frank McRae, but this is never explicitly shown or implied, so it therefore cannot be automatically assumed.

It also takes away too much from the film’s overall theme, which was making fun of less than ideal situations that occur on a lot of family vacations. Yes they do get exaggerated for comical purposes, but there was still a grain of truth to it while the ending instead borders on the surreal.

A better version would’ve been to have the family go to the park and have it open for business as expected, but then get caught up in a lot of crowds, long lines, overly priced rides and roller coasters that made them physically sick, which it did to the cast in real-life anyways.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Despite some of the script’s weaknesses this is still the funniest installment to the Griswold adventures and far better than its 4 sequels or the 2015 reboot. I also enjoyed the on-location shooting as well as the music by Lindsey Buckingham. His song ‘Holiday Road’, which gets played during the film’s opening, has become the mainstay to the franchise even though I found ‘Dancing Across the U.S.A’ that gets played over the closing credits to be better.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 29, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Harold Ramis

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Splash (1984)

splash 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Man falls for mermaid.

Allen (Tom Hanks) is stuck in a hapless job and a string of loveless relationships. After his last live-in girlfriend leaves him he becomes convinced that he will never find true love. Then on a whim he takes a trip to Cape Cod and goes out into the harbor in a small boat despite not being able to swim. When the engine conks out and he attempts to restart it he gets knocked into the water and his saved by a mysterious mermaid (Daryl Hannah). He returns to his New York home and mundane life only to find that the mermaid has sprouted legs and followed him. Allen doesn’t recognize the woman as the one who saved him, but he’s immediately smitten by her beauty nonetheless. They start up an awkward relationship, but when Allen proposes marriage she tells him she can’t as she has a dark secret, which is the fact that when she gets wet her legs turn into fins.

This was Ron Howard’s third foray behind the camera on a theatrical film and for the most part it’s a success. I enjoyed the mix of fantasy and surrealism and a love story that is cute, but not too cute. I loved the big city ambience including a scene involving classical street musicians and a visit to an outdoor ice skating rink. The climatic car chase through the downtown is funny especially when a group of soldiers manually overturn a taxi cab that is in their way.

Unfortunately the script, which is credited to four different writers, is full of major loopholes that to me ended up getting in the way of my enjoyment. I realize as a budding/struggling screenwriter that it is difficult to write a plot that is completely logical in every way and every story even the really good ones will usually have a few minor implausibility’s that one can overlook and forgive, but this one goes way beyond that.

For one thing I thought it was absurd that this mermaid who knew nothing of the English language when she came could somehow learn the language in one day simply by watching television. Yes, she may be able to pick up on some words, but to be able to learn their meanings and context is another story that just wouldn’t be possible for anyone to realistically grasp in such a short period of time. Besides I thought it was more interesting when she didn’t speak and it could’ve worked on that level alone. And while we’re at it who ended up paying for all those televisions in the department store that she destroys while in front of the sales staff when she states her name in such a high pitch that it explodes all of the screens?

I was also confused how the Eugene Levy character was able to track down the Hannah character and able to stalk her in his attempt to get her wet and expose her as a mermaid. He initially spots her under the ocean, but then later reads about her in a newspaper, but the article did not mention her name or whereabouts because at the time she hadn’t reconnected with Allen, so how would he know where to find her especially in the big, congested metropolis of New York?

I also had trouble with the scene where John Candy, who plays Allen’s brother, helps the Levy and Allen sneak the mermaid out of a science lab, but then ends up staying to take the blame while the others leave. The Candy character had no invested interest in the mermaid and came along only to help out, so why should he be the fall guy, or even agree to it?

Spoiler Alert!

There is also a scene where the mermaid buys Allen a giant water fountain and has it placed in his bedroom, which makes no sense because the doorway was clearly not big enough to get any of it through it. My biggest beef though is with the ending where the viewer learns that as long as Allen is with the mermaid he will be able to breathe underwater without any apparatus, which defies all laws of physics and seems thrown in to appease the hopelessly romantic masses who will buy into any contrived ‘happy ending’ no matter how utterly illogical. In some ways the idea that he couldn’t go with her and she would come back to visit him on occasion would’ve worked better because then they wouldn’t have to be with each other 24/7, which usually ends up being the cause of most break-ups anyways.

End of Spoiler Alert!

There is also the issue of how the mermaid manages to sprout human legs. Apparently there is a scene in the special edition DVD showing an old sea hag casting a spell on the mermaid, which allows her to have legs, but only for a short time. This scene was cut from the original release, which was a mistake as it was necessary to help explain the rest of the plot.

The movie does have its share of good points especially the casting of Hannah who seems born to play this role, but the truly great films do not require the viewer to overlook so many logic loopholes and unanswered questions in order to enjoy it.

splash 1

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 9, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ron Howard

Studio: Buena Vista

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