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USA 1989
Directed by
John Hughes
100 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Uncle Buck

Despite its air of geniality, writer-director John Hughes’s try-hard attempt to deliver a heart-warming family movie falls flat with insufficient chuckles to overcome its predictable story and lack of genuine heart.

John Candy who had starred opposite Steve Martin in Hughes's much funnier Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) plays Uncle Buck, a good-hearted but shiftless man-child who finds himself having to look after his brother’s three kids. The two younger children (Gaby Hoffman and Macaulay Culkin) are charmed by his un-adult behaviour but Buck immediately comes up against the hostility of the older teenage daughter, Tia (Jean Louisa Kelly). Meanwhile his long-suffering girlfriend (Amy Madigan) is fed up with his lack of commitment to her.

Whilst the story goes exactly where you think it will as Buck does his best to be a responsible surrogate parent and in so doing grows up somewhat, the film itself is brought down by its tonal incongruities and mostly lame attempts at humour.  In the latter category belongs Buck’s outrageously polluting heap of a car which provides a supposed running joke and a caricaturally sex-starved neighbor (Laurie Metcalf) who makes an unlikely play for Buck.  Similarly a scene in which Buck meets with the shrewish assistant principal at his youngest niece’s school and, referring to a large mole on her face, advises her “to go downtown and have a rat gnaw that thing off your face” is more embarrassing than funny. DItto for Buck’s attempts to deal with the tiresomely rancorous Tia’s relationship with her boyfriend which come down to ongoing threats of violence (and indeed some actual violence).

In short, although Hughes presents his protagonist as a loveable rogue Uncle Buck is actually quite sociopathic, the kind of character with which we are quite familiar today (think for instance of Saint Vincent, 2014) but which doesn’t sit well with the director's sentimentalist style. The result is that we feel more uncomfortable than amused. Candy does his best with the material and for his fans the film is worth a watch (retro buffs will also enjoy its late ‘80s fashion sense) but more to tick off the list than for actual laughs.




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