Uncle Buck (1989) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: PG for sexual content, some violence, and language
Running Time: 100 min.


Cast: John Candy, Jean Louisa Kelly, Gaby Hoffman, Macaulay Culkin, Amy Madigan, Elaine Bromka, Garrett M. Brown, Laurie Metcalf, Jay Underwood, Mike Starr
Director: John Hughes
Screenplay: John Hughes
Review published March 18, 2007

The last of writer-director John Hughes' (Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Breakfast Club) teen films, though it probably is more remembered as one for younger kids, Uncle Buck once again casts John Candy (Spaceballs, Splash) as another troublesome adult who stumbles his way through life causing annoyance to others, but manages to be loveable all the same underneath.  It would launch the career of Macaulay Culkin (The Good Son, Richie Rich) as the predominant child actor for the next several years, while also tipping John Hughes' career even further into the direction of material made almost exclusively from a child's point of view.  The success of Home Alone the following year would cement it.

When suburban Chicago resident Cindy Russell's (Bromka) father has a heart attack, she must immediate leave with her husband Bob (Brown) to be at his side -- but who do they leave in charge of their three children?  On such short notice, the only available friend or family member that will do it is Bob's unemployed bachelor brother, Buck (Candy).  While Buck's uncouth antics are a hit with the younger children, Maizy (Hoffman, Field of Dreams) and Miles (Culkin), rebellious 15-year-old Tia (Kelly, Mr. Holland's Opus) fights him every step of the way, as she sees him as the biggest obstacle between her and teenage happiness with her boyfriend, Bug.  What starts out as just a simple babysitting job becomes contest of wills, and the winner may be both of them, when they learn a little bit more about what's wrong with their lives and how to fix it.

Uncle Buck's central appeal is the performance by John Candy, and many who think of the late comedic actor nowadays probably remember much of his onscreen personality as that which he portrays in this film -- occasionally overbearing, but with a heart of gold.  It's difficult to imagine anyone else performing in the role as well as Candy, as it appears to have been tailor-made by Hughes, who had previously cast him in a similar role in Planes Trains and Automobiles, utilizing his edgy qualities when the situation calls for it, while maintaining a softness throughout that keeps you on his side.

Although rated PG, there is a darker side to Uncle Buck that does disturb some parents when they choose to let their kids watch it.  First, there are a few scenes of sexual innuendo, including the infamous washing machine scene, where it the nosy neighbor, Marcie, thinks that he is having sex in the washroom, when all the while he is just trying to open it ("I'm going to shove my load into you whether you like it or not!").  Buck later talks to his girlfriend Chanice (Madigan, Winter Passing) about the pet names he has given her ass dimples ("Lyndon" and "Johnson"), boobs ("Minnie" and "Mickey"), and one he refers to as "Felix" (use your imagination).  Buck does often resort to threats and violence when out to protect the children, such as a punch on the face of a drunken clown (Starr, Funny Farm) who shows up to entertain at Miles' birthday party, or in forcibly abducting Tia's sexually-coercive boyfriend, Bug (Underwood, The Fantastic Four), and dumping him in the trunk of his car.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that Uncle Buck is a good movie in the traditional sense, but it is entertaining and funny enough to get a recommendation for those who love John Candy, John Hughes, family fare from the 1980s, and sitcom-style plot premises.  Hughes does have a tendency to get cartoonish from time to time, such as a scene where Miles asks kids at a cafeteria table if they want to swap lunch items with Buck's randomly-selected junk (the kids peel out backwards in Looney Tunes fashion), or when Buck gets sent flying several feet in the air as Chanice kicks into a swinging door (why not punctuate the aftermath with animated stars revolving around his head?).  

These indulgencesare easy to put up with for the sake of the overall entertainment value at seeing John Candy cut loose, at least as much as he can in a PG-rated film.  Though Hughes is mostly recycling bits and pieces he's used in older, better films, like Buck's ambitious ideas for family meals ("Holy smokes!  He's cooking our garbage!"), he does manage to serve up in a way that makes it easy to consume for less discriminating viewers. 

-- Followed in 1990 by a short-lived TV series.

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo