PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES (1987)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Directed by: John Hughes

Written by: John Hughes

Starring: Steve Martin, John Candy, Laila Robins, Michael McKean, Kevin Bacon & Dylan Baker

As revered as John Hughes may be, I don’t necessarily love everything the man put out to the degree that most people do. Hughes deserves credit on writing charming comedic tales that never took themselves too seriously, but also maintained a degree of sensitivity. This being said, there’s a certain formula to his screenplays that can be a tad too predictable. Take PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES for example. I know people who absolutely love this movie and have made a tradition of watching it around Thanksgiving every year. Having finally watched it for the first time (I’ve seen certain clips on Youtube before), I can safely say that it’s a decent flick. There’s definitely an entertainment factor and a certain charm, but I don’t necessarily get the love that most people have for it (hear me out before crucifying me).

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Neal Page is a stressed out businessman who wants to get home to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving dinner. Unfortunately for Neal, his flight is delayed and then held over in another airport. Luckily for Neal, he’s befriended the overly polite Del Griffith who seems to have a solid head on his shoulders in spite of his naïve nature. It quickly becomes apparent that Del isn’t exactly as smart as he originally seemed and the two polar opposite guys trek across many states in a race against time as Thanksgiving draws closer with every passing second. Neal and Del have their differences, but they’re stuck together through various forms of transportation (hence the title).

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The formula for PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES is a simple one. Overworked curmudgeon (in this case, Steve Martin) meets annoying slob (in this case, John Candy) and hijinks ensue. I can understand why people love this film so much during certain moments. There are genuinely hilarious bits (the best of which either being a meltdown from Martin at a rental car office or the pair being stuck in a car on the highway). This film is the reason that 2010’s DUE DATE exists (which was pretty much a remake under a different name and packed with cruder sensibilities). PLANES is funny in a charming way, but suffers thanks to an overly predictable and corny plot. I didn’t feel much sympathy for Del and certain moments of the movie hinge on that. One overly manipulative revelation near the ending is a heavy-handed tactic to shift the viewer’s feelings for this otherwise annoying slob, but I didn’t buy it.

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This being said, Martin and Candy do have good comedic chemistry together. I must applaud the character of Neal for remaining patient as long as he was, because plenty of people (including myself) would have snapped at John Candy’s goofball long before Martin actually says anything obviously mean to the guy. This is your typical mismatched duo but they are convincing enough as polar opposites. It’s also worth noting that the film scored the R rating for one scene and that single moment alone. It involves Martin yelling at someone with the F-bomb being said every other word, but otherwise there’s nothing too objectionable here. It makes me wish that Hughes had toned that moment down for a PG-13 rating, because this feels like more of a family friendly outing than an R-rated comedy.

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PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES is a decent comedy that’s charming and funny, but does suffer from an overly predictable and manipulative sappy script. There are definitely moments of greatness, but there are also a fair share of problems I had with the movie as well. Martin and Candy bounce off each other in silly ways and that’s what really counts in a film like this, but I just wish the movie had less clichés and better reasons to care about these people on an emotional level (since that is where Hughes tries to take things in the final third). PLANES is worth a viewing, but might play better in the company of friends around Thanksgiving as a one time watch.

Grade: B-

R.I.P.D. (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Violence, Sci-Fi/Fantasy Action, some Sensuality, and Language including Sex References

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Directed by: Robert Schwentke

Written by: Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi

(based on the comic books by Peter M. Lenkov)

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak, James Hong & Marisa Miller

As I write this, R.I.P.D. has already become the fifth biggest box office bomb of all-time. For a movie financed on a budget of over 100 million, it certainly doesn’t show in the film itself. This comic book adaptation is either trying to channel a new GHOSTBUSTERS for a new generation or (more obviously) completely ripping off MEN IN BLACK with a supernatural twist. The biggest complement I give R.I.P.D. is that the ultra-quick pacing rushes through the entire film (kind of how I, FRANKENSTEIN seemed in a hurry to get the plot over and done with). I found one running joke to be funny, but everything else falls flat on its face. It almost seems like the production was halted halfway through completion and the result was still released as a finished film. If the poor script is any indication though, more time dedicated to the production might have churned a movie that’s even worse than this cut already is.

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Nick Walker (Reynolds) is a cop who has recently stolen some gold with his shady partner Bobby (Bacon). After being killed in the line of duty, Nick is sucked up into a heavenly vortex and winds up in an atypical otherworldly office. He’s given the choice of either facing judgment as a dirty cop or working off his sins by serving the Rest In Peace Department. So Nick becomes a member of the R.I.P.D. Saddled with Roy (Bridges), a deceased cowboy whose methods are radical, for partner, Nick comes across an undead conspiracy that may spell the end of mankind on Earth. It’s up to Roy and Nick, despite contradictory orders to follow simple directions, to get to the bottom of a possible apocalypse and save the day.

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For a movie set in Boston, the streets seem to be damn near deserted in every city scene. This might come off as nitpicking, until you take into account that it merely adds to a half-assed feeling that R.I.P.D. reeks of. Nobody seems to be even trying to make a good movie. Ryan Reynolds plays the straight-man role and executes it with the same comic book hero charisma that he showed off in GREEN LANTERN, which is to say none at all. Jeff Bridges can do comedy well. That’s already been seen in THE BIG LEBOWSKI. He’s just plain embarrassing here and playing the over-the-top bad-accented cowboy shtick to an aggravating level. Then there’s Kevin Bacon as an obvious antagonist (not a spoiler, since it’s given away in the first five minutes). Bacon seems to be reciting lines of cue cards whilst a check is being waved behind the camera. The man can act, but he’s sleepwalking through this role.

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The effects don’t fare any better. The Deados (evil spirits hiding on Earth) that Reynolds and Bridges hunt appear to be ripped right out of the LEFT 4 DEAD video games. These Deados bear a striking resemblance to the special-infected zombies in LEFT 4 DEAD. When looking at a hugely overweight one with a bulging neck, anyone familiar with those games will instantly be reminded of a Boomer. It’s not even as if they were designs based on those monsters, but it appears as if somebody literally took the video quality graphics and placed them within this failed blockbuster. R.I.P.D. fails at the comedic elements too. Running jokes make little to no sense and feel very forced. Deados reveal themselves around spicy food (your guess is as good as mine) and there’s a blob-like Deado (the Boomer lookalike) that makes Elvis quotes the whole time he’s on-screen. This nonsensical joke might have been funny if this film were made back in the 70’s or (even stretching it) 80’s, but it’s remarkably stale and dusty here.

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One running gag in R.I.P.D. got a couple of chuckles out of me. That would be how Reynolds and Bridges appear in the eyes of the living around them (their “avatars” are an old Chinese guy and a petite young woman). I admittedly thought that was a little clever and it’s the only saving grace that keeps this film from an F grade. Though based on a comic book series (which was also written after the Men In Black comics had been published), R.I.P.D. comes off as desperate to imitate MEN IN BLACK at every possible turn and comes off as a disastrous, painfully lazy movie. It’s appropriate that this film flopped in its theatrical run (losing more than 50 million in the process). I shudder to think that any of the people working on this film had complete faith in this project. R.I.P.D. is dead on arrival. To those who think that’s a clichéd and corny pun to end this review on, it’s about as clever as anything this movie has to offer.

Grade: D-

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