Movie Review: Uncle Buck (1989)

“He’s crude. He’s crass. He’s family.”

2 Stars
Uncle Buck (1989)

Uncle Buck (1989)


Director: John hughes

Cast: John Candy, Macaulay Culkin, Jean Louisa Kelly

Synopsis: A clumsy slob is called upon to babysit his teenage niece and her two young siblings when his brother is called away on urgent family business.

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Heavyweight bachelor Buck Russell (John Candy – Planes, Trains & Automobiles, JFK) is the type of guy who’s a lot of fun in ten-minute doses, but an absolute nightmare for any longer period of time.   He’s a clumsy slob, whose beat up Coupe announces his arrival with an explosive backfire every time he turns off the ignition, and who is likely to break something within minutes of entering a room (‘hmm, unbreakable,’ he muses of a dropped plate which fails to smash, before destroying it with a speculative tap on a piano).   Buck is a role that’s tailor-made for John Candy, an actor whose puppy dog looks and corpulent frame made him an imposing but cuddly figure.   A couple of scenes in Uncle Buck call on him to scare off his teenage niece’s unsuitable boyfriend by acting slightly crazed, but he finds it impossible to switch off that ceaseless geniality long enough to pull it off.

The niece, Tia (Jean Louisa Kelly), is a pretty but prickly bundle who, in a way that only teenage girls can, acts as if there’s an unpleasant smell under her nose each time she is forced to regard her slob of an uncle.   She’s angry enough at having to move to a new city with her parents, and the added indignity of having Buck sit for her and her two younger siblings while Mum and Dad are visiting her seriously ill Grandfather is too much to bear.   Once they get over the sight of this hulking stranger turning their kitchen into a disaster zone, Maizy (Gaby Hoffman) and Miles (Macaulay Culkin) instinctively take to Buck, but Tia proceeds to engage in a battle of wills with her uncle, persevering even when it becomes clear that most of the cards are stacked in his favour and he possesses the smarts to use them wisely.

Uncle Buck is pretty thin when it comes to plot; that’s because writer and director John Hughes  realises we know how it’s all going to work out anyway, so he mines the situations for all the laughs he can find and emerges with quite a load.   Candy  effortlessly keeps Buck likable, even managing to avoid sounding callous or uncaring when he cheerfully offers to buy his long-suffering girlfriend, Shanice (Amy Madigan), a mouse and a piece of sheet metal after she complains of wanting to hear the patter of tiny feet.   Things do grow a little aimless at times, but there’s enough off-the-wall Hughes humour to see us through those patches.

Uncle Buck marked the beginning of nine-year-old Macaulay Culkin’s brief flirtation with stardom.   Just five years later, at the age of fourteen, Hollywood had milked all it could from the cute looks that were beginning to fade with the onset of adolescence, and his movie career would be all but over.   Back in 1989, though, he was still as cute as a button.   He sits in the hallway of his house in one scene, and peers through the letterbox to find three men peering back at him.   It’s a near-surreal moment – and one which provided Hughes with the inspiration to write the following year’s smash hit, Home Alone.

(Reviewed 22nd October 2016)





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