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Time to cast Candy against type
By Henry Mietkiewicz Toronto Star

Judging from the ads for Uncle Buck, you'd think John Candy and director John Hughes had teamed to repackage Hughes' 1987 comedy hit, Trains, Planes And Automobiles.

No such luck. Despite its modest quota of smiles and chuckles, Uncle Buck is actually a throwback to Pretty In Pink, She's Having A Baby and similarly smarmy teenage comedy/dramas that Hughes tends to prefer.

Two years ago, Candy played a hilariously obnoxious bore of a man who turned a cross-country trip into a farcical living hell for frazzled fellow traveller Steve Martin.

Uncle Buck seems like more of the same, with ads showing the leering, slovenly, stogie-chomping Candy about to invade an upscale suburban home. On the other side of the door, a fear-stricken family has erected a barricade, apparently in dreaded anticipation of The Thing That Would Not Leave.

In fact, Buck is not barred from the house, but invited in for several days as a babysitter, when brother Bob (Garrett Brown) and sister-in-law Cindy (Elaine Bromka) are forced to pay a sudden out-of-town visit to Cindy's critically ill father.

Admittedly, Buck's penchant for junk food, horse racing and shady business deals doesn't endear him to his oh-so-proper relatives. And, early on, their fears are justified when he breaks a valuable collector's plate and serves sludgy meals that make airline food seem like a gourmet treat.

But instead of fully indulging in bull-in-a-china-shop comedy, Hughes, who also wrote the screenplay, is just setting us up for a contrived showdown between Buck and his troubled 15-year-old niece, Tia (Jean Kelly).

She's a full-blown problem child whose adolescent troubles are aggravated by her family's recent move away from their old home town. That leads to shouting matches with her parents and a desire to spite them by dating the sleaziest make-out artist in her class.

So who decides to bring Tia back into line? That's right, Uncle Buck, the same irresponsible Buck who has kept his own girl friend, Chanice (Amy Madigan), dangling for years. The same Buck who has hardly ever had contact with children or spent more than a few hours with his relatives.

And yet, somehow, Hughes asks us to believe a warm-hearted but inexperienced fumbler has the unerring instincts to rescue Tia, as well as charm her mischievous young siblings, Maizy (Gaby Hoffman) and Miles (Macaulay Culkin).

The few truly amusing moments in Uncle Buck are largely due to Candy's instinctive skills as a clown. Beaming with his own brand of impish delight, he uses a snow shovel to flip three-foot-diameter pancakes for the youngsters' party.

Later, he cheerily does the laundry by hand-washing the clothes and promptly popping them into a microwave oven to dry. And only Candy could pull off the scene where Buck, on a visit to an elementary school, is forced to drop to his knees to use a miniature urinal.

To his credit, Hughes correctly senses that Candy has the potential for straight drama, a knack displayed in brief flashes in Uncle Buck and at the climax of Trains, Planes And Automobiles.

If only Hughes had the courage to abandon teenage stories and cast Candy against type in a serious movie with light overtones, a formula that clicked for Steve Martin in Roxanne. That's where we'd see what Candy can really do.

- Henry Mietkiewicz

Uncle Buck

Written and directed by John Hughes. Starring John Candy and Amy Madigan. At the Hyland, Yonge north of St. Clair, 979-3456. PG