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September 11, 2008 |

By Dustin Rowles | Guides | September 11, 2008 |

It’s relatively easy to be a funny fat guy. All you do is stand there, jiggling your chins, yelling, playing the punchline punching bag, and you’ll get the laughs. But it’s not always easy to be sweet. John Candy could bust your gut and break your heart with just a smile. He specialized in working stiffs, guys named Chet or Gus or Jack, who busted their ass in thankless menial jobs so they could put food on the table and take their family on vacation. More so than any other actor of his era, John Candy reminded us of our fathers, or at the very least, that uncle who would sneak you a sip of his beer and partner up with you for horseshoes. He would have made the perfect father-in-law, a guy whose wisdom you could respect, but someone with whom you could also toss back a few cold ones.

The films of John Candy are comfort food. Not always of the highest quality necessarily, and some of it can downright harden your arteries, but you always come back to a warm and contented place. He worked with some of the top directors of the day: John Hughes, Chris Columbus, Mel Brooks, Oliver Stone. Not only was he the perfect go-to-guy for family comedy, but he also managed to branch out to a few romantic leads and action heroes. He was a brilliant comedic actor, coming to the forefront on SCTV, where loyalty kept him when SNL beckoned. He was great in quirky small parts, like the security guard hostage at Wally World, the wild radio deejay who admires Audrey II, or even as the voice of a smart-aleck talking horse who tries to help Bobcat Goldthwait. He played a cop, he played clarinet in a polka band, and he almost took over the U.S. as a Canadian warrior.

It’s a near Herculean task to cover the breadth of his impressive career, so I’m offering up a quick sampler platter of some of my favorites. Some of these films are god awful abominations that even his jolly presence couldn’t save, but still, I feel compelled to watch whenever they’re on. Most John Candy films have a personal meaning to me, whether it reminds me of a time spent toiling through the holidays at a family gathering or even bonding over them with roommates in college. Pardon me if I get nostalgic as I turn the pages on what could easily be a family album.

brewsters.jpgBrewster’s Millions: Candy started out his early film career playing a lot of rowdy blue collar beerguts, like Tom Hanks’ brother in Splash and the mud-wrestling private Ox in Stripes. Candy plays Spike Nolan, Brewster’s best friend and the catcher for the Hackensack Bulls in this low quality gem. Richard Pryor is like delicious gravy. He goes with anything and makes it just that much better, no matter how ridiculous the plot or unlikely the co-star. The plot of Brewster’s Millions was equally ridiculous. Pryor plays a minor league baseball pitcher who inherits $30 million dollars from a great-uncle, but he must spend all of it in 30 days without owning any property, in order to inherit $300 million. Brewster’s Millions gets the chuckle every time for running the mayoral campaign where Pryor encourages everyone to vote for None of the Above, since both candidates suck. Sometimes I lament the premise of the films that come out today, until I remember the films of the 80s.

srent.gifSummer Rental: Who hasn’t had a disastrous family vacation? Jack Chester (Candy), a beleaguered air-traffic controller from Atlanta is forced to go on leave, so he packs the station wagon with the family (which includes one Goonie and one Lawrence brother — whoa!) and goes to the beach. What always impressed me about Summer Rental was no matter how absolutely fucking ridiculous the wacky hijinks got, you totally bought into it because of Candy’s fatherly presence. Who hasn’t gotten sunburn so bad you can barely move? Who hasn’t hurt themselves trying to show off for a family member? Who hasn’t just wanted their fucking lobsters? We’ve all been that guy. The movie ends with a boat race against Rambo’s Colonel (Richard Crenna, at his spectacular douchey-est), as was the rule with all 80’s comedies taking place at the beach. And of course, Jack wins the day by sailing Rip Torn’s the Pirate’s seafood restaurant to victory by making a sail of his pants. It’s pretty much like a night out drinking with me. (Also, it’s got John Larroquette. Every movie is improved exponentially by the presence of John Larroquette.)

candy4-sized.jpgArmed and Dangerous: John Candy…the action star? Granted, this movie leans a little more heavily on the comedy, but there are plenty of shootouts and such. It’s sort of like Fat White Beverly Hills Cop II. Candy plays Frank Dooley, an ex-cop who was kicked off the force for not being corrupt. He ends up joining a security guard force where he’s paired up with Eugene “American Piebrows” Levy. The movie is terribly cobbled together, featuring Robert Loggia as the bad guy and Meg Ryan as his plucky daughter as well as Levy’s love interest. The best parts are watching Levy and Candy play off each other as mismatched cohorts. Candy gets to play the tough guy, and it works, dropping lines like, “It’s a fifty caliber. They used to use this to hunt buffalo with… up close. It’s only legal in two states… and this isn’t one of ‘em.” Also, he stabs a monster truck full of bleached blonde assholes.

spaceballs.jpgSpaceballs: This was probably the last good movie Mel Brooks made. I’m kind of on the fence about Robin Hood: Men in Tights, which isn’t terrible, but Spaceballs is typically where people draw the line. In what would have been a “Family Guy” cutaway or person who explodes in a Movie Movie these days, John Candy takes the one-note joke of Barf, the half-man half-dog sidekick of Lone Star, (he’s his own best friend), and actually stretches it into a decent character. While Rick Moranis owns this film as Dark Helmet, let’s pause to talk about how much Rick Moranis owes to John Candy. Candy was originally slated to play Louis Tully in Ghostbusters but recommended Rick Moranis instead. Later, Candy was asked to play the father in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. He passed, suggesting they offer to role to Moranis. Use the Schwartz, indeed.

planes_trains_ronaldgrant-313.jpgPlanes, Trains and Automobiles: “You’re messing with the wrong guy!” This is not just my favorite John Candy movie, or Steve Martin movie, but the best movie that John Hughes ever made. I don’t care he captured teen angst and pathos in the 1980s, never was he more adept at meshing hilarity with heart-warming than in this Odd Couple road film. Steve Martin is an uptight marketing executive trying to get home to his family for Thanksgiving, when he ends up crossing paths with Del Griffith (Candy), a shower-curtain ring salesman. The two try and fail miserably to make their way from New York to Chicago, blowing up at each other and setting fire to various automobiles along the way. The movie swings back and forth from hysterical rants to exceptional sweetness. There are far too many great moments to recapture, but the one that will always stand out is Martin’s profanity laden rant at Edie McClurg. Eighteen f-bombs in one minute beats my record.

john_candyoiutdoors.jpgThe Great Outdoors: If Summer Rental heralds the immediate family, then Great Outdoors is about the rest of your family. You know. The aunt with the creepy fucking kids. The cousins you only see once a year at holidays or family picnics. The ones who collect serial killer trading cards and taxidermy their own hunting kills. This is Candy vs. Aykroyd, a pairing that really should have shared more films together. While Candy resumes his steady trend of playing the blue-collar dad just trying to give his family a happy time, Aykroyd shines as Roman, the Duke of Asshole. For years, my father would come back into our vacation house from playing golf, slamming the door behind him and shouting wide-eyed, “Big bear! Big bear chase!” Anyone who doesn’t laugh at a giant grizzly getting shot bald-ass by a shotgun lamp is a fucking communist.

whos-harry-crumb-john-candy-dvd-cover.jpgWho’s Harry Crumb?: Is a terrible film. It’s easily one of the worst films ever made in a loathesome genre: the wacky spy/detective comedy. Every terrible costumed, shitty-accent mimicking, lame physical gag comedy might not have been born from this mess, but it definitely snuffled in this pool of vomit before getting made. Still, every time this is on television, I watch. I can’t look away. Annie Potts is bizarrely sexy, with her nasally I Ate Fran Drescher BBQ Style voice. As far as I’m concerned the only thing more regrettable than the death of John Candy was the scandal of Jeffrey Jones. The man was brilliant, and in this movie, he is at his most manic. When he scowls at Candy with a tiny duct tape kissy mouth, I kind of pee a little. I harbor a theory that Steve Carrell watched this movie over and over again as a burgeoning comedian and has been throwing homages to it in all of his subsequent work.

Uncle Buck: This movie would have been a trainwreck if not for the glory that is John Candy. His Buck Russell, a shiftless bachelor who smokes cigars and wears fedoras, is called in an emergency to watch his brother’s kids. Of course, the kids don’t want him there, and he has to work to earn their respect. It’s a bland, been done before premise. Yet, Candy’s performance is fucking genius. Candy excels at playing lovable losers, and none is better than Buck Russell. Two scenes stand out: the Macaulay Culkin interrogation sequence and the scene where he locks the boyfriend Bug (an odious emo goth hipster before any of these three words existed) in the trunk of his car before menacing him with a power drill. I love Uncle Buck because of college. You see, in college, my roommate spent all his money on an expensive sound system with a giant bass speaker. Most people would test this out with something like Top Gun or a Michael Bay opus. Instead, we cued up the scene in Uncle Buck where he goes into his closet searching for a coat and a bowling ball rolls off a top shelf onto his head. When it struck Candy, the bass reverb actually shook coasters off our coffee table. We rewound and played it again, even louder, where it knocked over glasses of water to our delight. Later in class, one of the girls who lived below us asked if we were playing football in our living room. True story.

43509-large.jpgNothing But Trouble: This is quite possibly the worst film in the history of cinema. It’s a vanity project from the coke-rotted lobe of Dan Aykroyd’s cerebral cortex, based on his experiences of getting pulled over in a small coal town in Pennsylvania. This rubber prosthetic, terrible car collision, Go-Ask-Alice nightmare into the center of the dingiest dirt mall features a collection of improbable “stars” at their lowest. Yet every fucking time it is on television, I will watch it with a religious fervor. It’s like a Hieronymus Bosch painting of the center of Hell, and I can’t look away. Chevy Chase and Demi Moore are yuppies who get trapped by an insane reeve (Dan Aykroyd) and his sheriff son Dennis and Dennis’ sister Eldona (both played by Candy). Apparently, the judge has been kidnapping outsiders and grinding them up for justice. There are so many reasons to hate this movie, but so many more to love it. It’s got Taylor Negron in his second greatest role next to Milo. There’s a machine called the Bonestripper that’s part roller coaster, part Twisted Sister video. It’s got a model train that rides around a dinner table, with a pickle launcher car. And finally, it’s got a musical performance by Digital Underground. Which means that, yes, Tupac Shakur is dancing his lame ass off for Humpty Hump. I can’t recommend this movie as good, but more as something you will watch with unfolding revulsion.

only-lonely-john-candy-dvd-cover.jpgOnly the Lonely: After a string of failures (including most of the ones I mentioned lovingly above), Candy tried to remake his image. He decided to star in Chris Columbus’s romantic comedy that was a spiritual remake of the Oscar winning Marty. Candy plays Danny Muldoon, a Chicago cop, who falls in love with Ally Sheedy. The only problem is Muldoon’s overbearing mother Rose (the brilliant Maureen O’Hara), who clutches her baby bird to her bosom and won’t let go. It’s not a perfect romantic comedy, but it features some sparkling performances and some touching moments. It was a real departure for Candy, who was typically known as a low-brow comedian, doing mostly physical shtick and crude humor. Candy proved that he had the chops to pull off some more slightly dramatic material.

B00005V9HW.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpgDelirious: Candy managed to pull off another romantic comedy, where he fights for the affections of Emma Samms and Mariel Hemingway. This was the early nineties where love interests didn’t have to actually be pretty. Candy plays Jack Gable, a struggling soap opera writer who suffers a head injury and wakes up in his own story. The catch is he is able to use his typewriter to bend events to his own will. (This movie has been cited in New Agey hocus-pocus to be a good example of how to change your life for the better, using a typewriter like Jack Gable did.) The movie becomes typical parlour comedy fare, with the screwball comedy antics you’ve come to appreciate. It ends predictably, but again, it was nice to see Candy branching out into romantic lead territory. It’s not often you see fortyish husky men playing the Romeo.

10808989_tml.jpgCool Runnings: The fucking Jamaican bobsled team. Of course Disney would turn their exploits into an endearing Mighty Ducksian hard working sports film. It’s ridiculously watchable, and you find yourself rooting for Doug E. Fresh and the other Jamaican runners. The story was warped and twisted for dramatic purposes — the other racers hate the Jamaicans for ruining the purity of the bobsled sport, they fight amongst themselves, the coach was a disgrace who is seeking redemption. What’s enjoyable about Candy’s performance as Coach Irv Blitzer is that it’s not a comedic role. He’s legitimately playing the typical “Go! Team! Hustle!” coach, and he’s great at it. It’s far from a dramatic role, but again, you must admire Candy’s versatility.

Candy died of a heart attack at 44 while filming Wagons East, a dreadful pioneer comedy. Chris Farley died after the filming of Almost Heroes, a dreadful pioneer comedy. I will never ever make a movie about pioneers or even agree to wear a coonskin cap in a movie. While not a very auspicious stage to bow from, Candy died making films and leaving an impressive legacy. The last film released featuring Candy was Michael Moore’s first (and hopefully last) foray into fiction (depending on your political views), the overwrought and undercooked Canadian Bacon. Again, Candy made some pretty terrible movies, but you find yourself drawn to the big man, and his massive presence. He often did voiceover work, including his own cartoon series “Camp Candy” and several roles in “Heavy Metal.” The last film to feature Candy’s voice talents will be finally released later this year, a pseudo-environmental cartoon called The Magic 7.

Guides | September 11, 2008 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter. Blog Review | City of Bones by Michael Connelly

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