Mar 3, 2001 (Updated Nov 21, 2004)
Review by William Jones
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Instantly recognizable characters; funny situations; nice ending.
Cons:Tendency to go for the cheap laugh; unnecessary opening scene; broad characterizations.
The Bottom Line: See it for a few laughs and for Candy's performance (one of his best).
Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Recommend this product?
I'm not a big fan of writer-director John Hughes (see my review of "Breakfast Club"), but I liked Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I won't go so far as to call it a great film, like one famous, portly Pulitzer prize-winning critic from Chicago has done. It surely doesn't rank up there with Citizen Kane, The Godfather and Taxi Driver, but it's worth seeing.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles opens on an unusual note: the title comes zipping across the screen at a fast clip (indicative perhaps of a moving plane, train or automobile). And then, without further credits, we're plopped down in a business meeting with advertising executive Steve Martin and William Windom ("Brewster McCloud") in a small cameo role. What's odd is that Windom doesn't say a word. Not one. He sort of groans and moves around a little in his chair, but no dialog. This is somewhat strange, but then Hughes pulls the stunt a second time whena short time laterwe get a scene with Steve Martin and Kevin Bacon dueling for the same Park Avenue cab which has the more famous Bacon in a tiny, non-speaking cameo.
Is Hughes trying to be cute in a sort of wink-wink way? Who knows? Things do, however, pick up when we're introduced to Del Griffith (John Candy), a shower curtain ring salesman who ends up sitting next to Neal Page (Steve Martin) on a plane trip home to Chicago for the Thanksgiving holiday. Page has been bumped from first class and is forced to sit next to the lovable lout ("The last thing I want to be known as is a blabbermouth"). When their plane is forced to land in Wichita and the flight canceled "due to severe weather" the pair end up sharing a hotel room.
Here we get a lot of Odd Couple-type gags with Candy a sloppy Oscar to Martin's fussy Felix. Candy's Del Griffith washes his socks in the sink, smokes, and spills beer in the bed that they're forced to share. He gets on Neal's nerves and Neal (who has a tendency to hold things in) finally unloads on him. He puts him down in a hurtful way, telling Del he talks too much ("It's like going on a date with a chatty Cathy doll").
It's a low blow, but Del who wants to make friends in the worst way won't fire backexcept to tell Neal that he's not a very tolerant person. He knows he talks too much, he knows he's an easy target, but he also knows that he's the real article ("What you see is what you get").
Neal is desperate to get home for Thanksgiving. He feels he's been spending too much time away from homesomething they both have in common ("Like your work, love your wife," is Del's motto)but it's like fate is out to stop him. Neal just can't seem to make it happenevery mode of transportation keeps breaking down. At the same time he's constantly trying to get away from Delsuggesting at one point that they'd be better off splitting upbut by himself he's lost. At least with Del (who has the ability to "go with the flow") they're moving. Martin by himself goes nowhere; he's too rigid.
My favorite sequence involves Neal and Del in a rental car. It's nighttime and Del ends up driving on the wrong side of the road. If you've ever tried to communicate with someone in a moving vehicle you know how tough it is. In a terrific scene a couple in another car (on the right side of the highway) tries to do just that.
"You're going the wrong way," they yell out their car window. How would they know where we're going, Del tells Neal. "Yeah, right," Neal says smiling; he doesn't understand either. Then they both see the oncoming headlights.
It's a funny setup and it plays out well. Hughes, who has a tendency to go for the cheap laugh, builds here and it pays off.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles works because Hughes has written instantly recognizableif not finely drawncharacters. Any sketchiness in the characterizations (as written), however, is filled in by the performers themselves. I especially liked John Candy's performance here, but Steve Martin is fine in the straight man role. Candy passed away in 1994 and it's a shame; he was a better actor than he got credit for.
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