PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES (1987)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

Planes Trains Automobiles

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-

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