Tuesday, August 26, 2014

'Wagons East' Was Candy's Least

"Wagons East" premiered 20 years ago today, a fact that undoubtedly would not be noteworthy if not for one thing — it was John Candy's final movie role. He died while it was being filmed.

"It is possible he never appeared in a worse [movie]," wrote Roger Ebert. "The producers claim he finished all his key scenes before his unexpected death on the location, but that's hard to believe because his character is an undefined, vague figure and isn't even required to be funny most of the time.

"That's easy in this film,"
Ebert observed, "which is one of the least amusing comedies I've ever seen."

I haven't seen all of his movies, but I feel safe in saying "Wagons East" was Candy's least in every sense of the word.

Clearly, I'm in Ebert's camp on this. I didn't see the movie at the movie theater. I saw it on a rented video with some friends of mine. There were occasional polite (even nervous) chuckles but no real belly laughs, you know?

Boy, was I glad I didn't blow a lot more money just to see it on the big screen.

I suppose the humor — if it can be called that — had its audience. My best guess was that it was trying to duplicate "Blazing Saddles," but it achieved only a faint copy at best.

There were a lot of jokes about gays and hookers, physical humor, pratfalls, that kind of stuff. No humor that required any real thought — to execute or comprehend. We get it, I wanted to say. It just isn't funny.

The premise was that a group of settlers had decided to return East, and they hired Candy to be their wagonmaster. Comedian Richard Lewis played a banker who was tired of being robbed in the lawless old West. John C. McGinley played a gay bookseller. Ellen Greene, who first drew attention in "Little Shop of Horrors," played a hooker.

You get the idea, I am sure, what kind of folks made up the wagon party — and, consequently, the kind of humor it inspired.

As I say, it just wasn't funny.