PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015

Editor’s Note: Although it is thought of as a holiday film, since it is set during over Thanskgiving, it seems a bit off to have ‘Planes, Trains & Automobiles’ as part of Cinemark’s latest classic-movie cycle in August, but here it is. If you want to see it on the big screen, it will be shown on Sunday, Aug. 23, at 2 p.m., and on Wednesday, Aug. 26, at 2 and 7 p.m. in various (but not all) Cinemark theaters around the country. Below is my review, published in the Deseret News on Nov. 25, 1987. (And on a sad note, both John Candy and John Hughes are no longer with us.)

Steve Martin is the big draw for “Planes, Trains & Automobiles.” But John Hughes is the reason the film works.

Hughes is the writer-director-producer who has specialized in teen movies in the past few years, reeling off hit after hit by making comedies about adolescence that are filled with real, three-dimensional people rather than cartoony characters in dumb situations: “The Breakfast Club,” “Pretty in Pink” and “Sixteen Candles” among others.

Now Hughes climbs into adult territory with the same confidence he had when taking on teenagers, and proves he is a filmmaker who understands comedy – regardless of the age involved.

Steve Martin, left, John Candy, 'Planes, Trains & Automobiles'

Hughes also manages to pull such a wonderful, controlled performance out of John Candy that it becomes readily apparent Candy’s problem in such past duds as “Armed and Dangerous,” “Summer Rental” and “Volunteers” has been weak scripts and/or directors. Let’s face it — actors are always at the mercy of their filmmakers, and Candy proves here that with the right hand guiding him he can be quite wonderful.

“Planes, Trains & Automobiles” is really very simple, as far as plot and story are concerned. Martin is a businessman trying to get from Manhattan to Chicago to be home with his family for Thanksgiving.

Naturally, he is foiled at every turn, and along the way he meets up with Candy. Where Martin is low-key and easygoing, a private person, Candy is loud, obnoxious and more than a little eccentric.

The film is little more than a series of skits based on their mishaps together as they try various modes of transportation to get to Chicago — all of which, naturally, fail. But Hughes doesn’t turn it into a cartoon by any means.

Martin and Candy are fully drawn characters and we come to care about both of them. That’s no easy trick considering just how obnoxious Candy is much of the time. But he’s also quite lovable and his softer side causes Martin to feel for him, despite his better judgment. Consequently, the audience is drawn in the same way.

Steve Martin, left, John Candy, 'Planes, Trains & Automobiles'

To top it all off, Hughes ends the film with a serious, poignant note rather than a big laugh. And somehow it feels quite right, because it’s not a cheat. Hughes has earned the privilege by allowing us to see and feel depth in his characters.

But there are an awful lot of big laughs in this picture, and they are fast and furious in coming. And though the predicaments are somewhat predictable, Hughes does manage to come up with some unexpected twists and turns.

“Planes, Trains & Automobiles” is quite a delightful surprise, a wonderful comedy with genuine laughs and genuine heart, a combination that all too often eludes most comic filmmakers.

It is rated R for one scene where Martin’s character in a fit of rage uses a particular profanity several times. There is also some mild violence and vulgarity, as well as a few other scattered profanities.