Uncle Buck (1989)

John Candy as Buck Russell in Uncle Buck (1989)

The Trials and Tribulations of the Candy Man

There is no question that John Hughes was the master of the 80's teen comedy delivering us favourites such as "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and "Sixteen Candles", but even he was prone to making not so much a poor movie, more just an average one. Which is how I feel about "Uncle Buck" a movie which has John Hughes's trademarks stamped all over it from an angry teenager, cute kids, a coming of age style message and a great soundtrack. Except for some reason John Hughes's "Uncle Buck" doesn't quite gel with it at times coming across like a series of set pieces and hugely enjoyable gags.

When Cindy Russell's (Elaine Bromka) father suffers a heart attack she is left with no one to watch over her children whilst she heads off to look after her father. That is except for her brother-in-law Buck (John Candy - The Great Outdoors) a 40 year old slacker who she can't stand and who has commitment issues when it comes to his long suffering girlfriend Chanice (Amy Madigan - Field of Dreams). But with no choice Buck moves in whilst Cindy and her husband Bob head off to Indianapolis and so starts an adventure as Buck learns about looking after children, including the rebellious Tia (Jean Louisa Kelly - The Three Gifts) and her boyfriend Bug.

Jean Louisa Kelly as Tia in Uncle Buck (1989)

Part of the trouble with "Uncle Buck" is that once the movie goes though the set up, the angry daughter, the sick father, the commitment phobic slacker Buck and his long suffering girl friend Chanice it becomes predictable. It plays like a series of obvious scenes as Buck struggles to master looking after young children and has a struggle to break through the frosty reception he gets form Tia. Thrown in we also get the over zealous man eating neighbour, Bucks problems with Chanice as well as matters of the heart for his teenage niece. Everything is expected and there are very few shocks as it leads up to the main characters realisation of their own issues and flaws for an ending which delivers that coming of age style message.

It also doesn't help that at times that friendly humour which Hughes was a great exponent of seems to have gone missing for a more course approach. There are some very obvious moments of sexual innuendo but it is also the coarseness of the dialogue such as when Buck berates the Principal of the school which Maizy goes to. In some ways I can see what Hughes was trying to do and it feels like he is showing his anger for the way things are going in the world, but it feels a little harsh at times a bit of out character.

That's not too say all the humour suffers and there are some wonderfully visual gags from Buck having to use a small child's urinal, the gigantic pancake cooking and the slight horror moments such as the scene where Buck drills through a locked door. In fact the good humorous moments do outweigh those which feel harsh, but it is those harsh ones which unfortunately stick in your mind.

The good news though is that the casting of John Candy is perfect as Uncle Buck because he is instantly likable with his good heart despite being an utter slacker. But it is also his comedy timing which makes it work and the few scenes he shares with a young Macauley Culkin are brilliantly especially the initial meeting with the quick fire questions. Elsewhere Amy Madigan is funny as the long suffering Chanice and Gaby Hoffmann adds cuteness as Maizy. Sadly though the casting of Jean Louisa Kelly as troublesome teenager Tia doesn't quite work with her character feeling a little like a second rate combination of Jennifer Grey, Ally Sheedy and Molly Ringwald all rolled into one. It's not a bad character and Kelly does well to deliver the teen issues and rebelion it's just too similar too other notable Hughes creations.

What this all boils down to is that "Uncle Buck" is by no means a great John Hughes movie, but then even not being great John Hughes it is still average compared to other comedies. The casting of John Candy works well and a young Macauley Culkin is both cute and entertaining without being annoying. It's just a shame that at times it doesn't flow so well with scenes occasionally feeling like set piece gags and a coarseness to some of the dialogue which feels a little out of place.