Friday, February 1, 2013

Movie review: "Planes, Trains and Automobiles"

I got three hearty laughs out of this 1987 movie and assorted light chuckles. That's good, but it's not enough to make it a great movie. Unfortunately, the plot is thin and the love-hate relationship of the two main characters is too obviously contrived.

Everyone has had a bad trip, so when things go wrong for Neal Page (Steve Martin) and Del Griffith (John Candy) as they're trying to get home for Thanksgiving, we can all share their pain and empathize. And when things go particularly bad, it's particularly funny.

Still, for a road trip movie, "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" loses momentum and stalls a surprising number of times. And parts of it just don't make sense.

The second half of the movie shows Page trying to get from St. Louis to Chicago. He finds he can't get a plane or a rental car. But his wife is waiting for him in Chicago, so why doesn't he just call her and have her come get him? Yes, that's a four-and-a-half-hour drive, but given that he doesn't seem to have any other options for getting home for Thanksgiving, wouldn't any wife do that? Or at least get a friend or relative to go?

Somehow that doesn't happen. By luck, Page gets a ride with Griffith, who is also heading to Chicago. The passage of time is unclear at this point, but their drive starts in daylight, goes into the darkness, they switch drivers twice, Page falls asleep in the passenger seat. Surely by this point they must be REALLY close to Chicago, right?  You'd think so, but somehow no.

When more trouble ensues, they again fail to call Page's wife (how far away can she be?). Then when they get a ride in a truck, Griffith says that they're only three hours from Chicago. Huh??

That's not the only part that doesn't make sense. At one point they end up driving the wrong way on a virtually deserted freeway. C'mon even in 1980s Illinois no freeway is that empty.

One fun element in this movie is that several actors who go on to bigger careers can be found in small roles  Kevin Bacon, Ben Stein, Michael McKean.

While this movie isn't great, it might make an OK family movie except for one scene where the f-word is used about 50 or 60 times (attention parents: It's the scene at the rental car counter; skip ahead). That's too bad. Sometimes I wonder if filmmakers intentionally do this to avoid getting a PG rating, which is somehow considered "lightweight."


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