Uncle Buck (1989)

18 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Ever since John Hughes stepped out of his ever-popular teenage-comedy stage, John Candy has been his go-to guy for a comedic character in his newer (…adult? mature?) comedies. (I use parentheses because these movies are really no more mature than the previous movies.) Hughes gave Candy the role of a lifetime in the 1987 hit “Planes, Trains & Automobiles,” then called him back for a role in the boring 1988 comedy “The Great Outdoors.” And now comes the 1989 Hughes comedy “Uncle Buck,” starring Candy in the title role. (And after this would follow with roles in Hughes productions “Home Alone” and “Only the Lonely.”) It’s great that Hughes and Candy kept working with each other, and it’s great to see Candy in just about anything because he makes good company. But “The Great Outdoors” underplayed his talent with a mediocre screenplay, and “Uncle Buck” is unfortunately not merely boring; it’s obnoxious. It’s an unpleasant, inconsistent, annoying John Hughes movie that tries too hard to appeal to both kids and adults that it ultimately becomes unappealing to watch.

Buck (Candy) is a loser. He has a crappy apartment, can’t hold a job, can’t commit to his girlfriend Chanice (Amy Madigan), and drifts through life betting on horse races. The day before he goes to work at Chanice’s auto service, his brother Bob calls one night with an emergency. Bob and his wife need someone to watch the kids and their suburban home for a few days. So, Buck makes himself at home as he meets the three kids.

The oldest kid is a scowling, rebellious teenage girl named Tia (Jean Louisa Kelly) who constantly gives the guy a hard time. The younger ones—Miles (Macaulay Culkin) and Maizy (Gaby Hoffman)—take a liking to Buck, because he has a way of turning jokes into reasons for appeal. And as you’d expect, Buck plays a big part in parenting these kids for the next few days, although there are inevitable hard times to follow—not just with Tia, but also with his relationship with Chanice which seems to be spiraling downward.

Oh, and get this—Tia manages to talk to Chanice on the phone and tip off a few lies about Buck, leading to further complications.

“Uncle Buck” doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be—it wants to be a heartwarming story about life lessons and a mean-spirited dark-comedy. As a result, it’s inconsistent in tone and very annoying to follow. There are several wrong notes being hit here. Where do I begin? First of all, the “cute” stuff is cute enough, but it’s also utterly predictable without the right amount of grins and chuckling, let alone smiles and laughter. And then there are scenes of caricatures that are supposed to be “oddly charming,” but are ultimately repulsive. What I am mainly referring to are the scenes involving a promiscuous neighborhood woman named Marcie (Laurie Metcalf). She is not funny, not charming, not appealing in the slightest.

There are more unpleasant moments in the movie. One features Buck going in to meet with Maizy’s principal, who happens to have a mole on her face. Why? So Buck can make many cracks at it. He tells her off about her behavior towards Maizy, and ends with giving her a quarter so she can “go downtown and have a rat gnaw that thing off her face.” And other unpleasant scenes feature Bug (Jay Underwood), Tia’s boyfriend whom Buck notices as bad news. Buck constantly intimidates Bug so that he’ll lay off of her—first, he scares him into thinking he’ll use a hatchet to maim him. And then, the resolution of this subplot is that Bug goes too far, and Buck comes after him with a power drill, and then ties him up and locks him in his car trunk so that Tia can have her revenge. I’m thinking to myself, “What the hell?”

Also, “Uncle Buck” is stupid in its storytelling. For example, in the opening scene, we see that Tia is clearly responsible enough to look after her younger siblings, and also each of them are capable of getting to school by themselves (Tia and Miles walk home; Maizy rides the bus). First of all, why is Tia suddenly not old enough to be in charge of the house while the parents are gone? Second of all, why does Uncle Buck have to drive them to school suddenly?

Well, we know the answer to the first question—Uncle Buck has to be the guy in charge so that “hilarity” can ensue. As for the answer to the second question, Uncle Buck has to take the kids to school so we can have many jokes involving Buck’s old car that leaves a cloud of exhaust fumes, and makes a loud popping noise when it stops. (What a desperate move.)

There are only a few jokes that work—one is a sight gag involving Buck’s birthday breakfast for Miles; another is a 30-second sequence in which Miles rapidly interrogates Buck about his life. (“Are you married?” “No.” “How come?” “It’s a long story.” “Do you have kids?” “No.” “How come?” “It’s an even longer story.”)

I can’t blame John Candy for his work, as he does try to make something out of what is, to be honest, a poorly-written character. Candy is likable and gives us some sort of sympathy for Buck. Amy Madigan does what she can with the role of Chanice. Macaulay Culkin and Gaby Hoffman are cute young performers, while teenage Jean Louisa Kelly’s character’s continuous glaring and mean-spirited attitude makes it very hard to sympathize with her.

John Hughes, who wrote/directed this movie, needed to consider realistic situations involving being left housesitting and play the comedy from that. There are many ways to go. As it is with “Uncle Buck,” it’s not funny and we can see things coming. I’m sure its intentions were good, but its final result is unwholesomely annoying.

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