By the nineties John Hughes was turning his attention away from teenagers, applying his penmanship to stories of kids before they reach the teen years. From Dennis The Menace and Beethovan to Baby’s Day Out and Miracle On 34th Street. It was Home Alone that was certainly the most notable of his ‘films about kids’, whilst in 1991 he wrote Dutch, a loose remake of his own Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and replaced the Steve Martin and John Candy roles with Ed O’Neill (of Married With Children fame) and child newcomer Ethan Embry. The comparison’s between the two films are too evident making O’Neill and Embry feel like replacements of the two comedy greats, so you’re constantly thinking they just don’t live up to their counterparts, and unfortunately this is just the first failed hurdle of many that Dutch trips over.
The film tells the tale of ‘nice’, working class guy Dutch who wants to please his new girlfriend (JoBeth Williams) so much, he offers to drive across country to pick up her little brat of a kid who refuses to come home from school. As soon as Dutch arrives at the school and meets her son for the first time, things get off to a bad start. Doyle (Ethan Embry) thinks he’s a total stranger so beats the living daylights out of him, before Dutch can eventually restrain the kid and introduce himself. This is just the start of the mishaps to befall this warring pair, as they lose their car, get robbed by hookers, and nearly get themselves killed along the way.
Dutch doesn’t allow for subtlety in its preachy proletariat versus the bourgeois posturing, right down to having the kid meet an African-American Mum struggling to make ends meet and providing that all too familiar ‘you’ve got to believe in hope’ speech. Faiman doesn’t know whether this film is an allegory for fatherhood, and the consequence on the young of rich parents living in a ‘yes’ world, or a straightforward buddy-road comedy between an adult and a kid. It becomes grating how he jumps from moments of slapstick comedy to serious drama, and the changes are all too evident. One moment the kid will be beating the hell out of Dutch, him getting up from another kick in the balls, wincing but being quite jovial about it, and the next he’ll be pushing the kid into the toilet, shouting at him to stop his childish games. One side is happy-go-lucky slapstick humour - no matter how many punches are landed they’ll be no blood; the other is almost difficult to watch as the adult, in an act of sheer bullying, push’s the kid around, putting his foot down and making a stand. In the latter the laughs are gone, and we are thrust into a relationship torn by the child’s inherent hatred of his mother for, in his eyes, breaking up their family by leaving his father, and Dutch who is desperately trying to win the heart of the child so he can make the family work. Is it possible to even contemplate this seriously when moments earlier we were witnessing the kid beat the living daylights of a man who seemed helpless and yet perfectly happy to fall down with all the Laurel and Hardy faces and physical comedy clichés?
Faiman admittedly, is not working from one of John Hughes better scripts, but neither seem to know where they want to go with it. Perhaps Hughes’ more delicate touches on the written page were elaborated by Faiman into over-stretched gags that simply don’t work? Watching Dutch set off fireworks as if gleefully having a first time opportunity, taken away from him as a kid, to watch them up-close and personal, just outlasts its place in the film. It seems to take forever getting to the inevitable and that is the film’s biggest downfall. Much like a Planes, Trains And Automobiles remake without two great leading comedic stars, it’s always going to struggle, and the road trip across country is just too predictable for its own good. Some of the supposedly funny moments are taken to their extreme which severely hampers the pace of the film, and yet they at times feel all too awkward because of the juxtaposition of the outwardly slapstick and the familial drama. But it’s the fact, as an audience, we know where the film is going that makes it, through lack of any surprises and the severely hampered underlying themes of fatherhood and friendship, appear stale.
As a movie for children it will probably pass them by through virtue of not having enough physical humour, but as a movie for adults it fails because it has too much. The whole idea of the spoiled rich kid being a product of his environment never materialises properly, but the kid is so selfish and within himself that he becomes too unlikeable and the thought of spending an entire film with his insipid musings is daunting and rather unattractive. The beauty of Planes, Trains and Automobiles was that our two travellers were lovable, if unfortunate, nice guys. When Steve Martin tells John Candy, in a touching scene, that he talks far too much, we don’t dislike Martin because his outburst is the product of his earlier mishaps. When the spoilt little rich kid makes his mother feel like something you find on the bottom of your shoe, or steals Dutch’s car and nearly kills a truck driver, he’s unlikeable because the product of his upbringing is simply everything being handed to him on a plate. His anguish at his parents divorce and his mother’s new boyfriend could have easily turned these scenes into heartfelt sentiment, but the sub-plot is lost and we are left with nothing but apathy.
Neither of the two main actors really get to grips with their roles, and perhaps O’Neill is better suited to his old television show Married With Children than the spotlight of film. The problem with the ‘nice’, working class Dutch is that the idea that he ‘worked hard for his money’ as opposed to the kid getting hundred dollar bills for breakfast, is that it comes across heavy-handedly. Him telling Doyle’s rich father that if he hurts his girlfriend, Doyle’s mother, he’ll ‘hit him so hard his dog will bleed’ seems a little excessive, and his whole attitude to Doyle is that of almost training him to be a human being based on his own understanding. Perhaps this answers exactly why the film flirts between an unusual fine line of slapstick and straight-drama – when the kid bullies Dutch it’s slapstick humour, when Dutch bullies the kid (for example, leaving him on a roadside in the middle of nowhere at night, to find his own way to the hotel) it’s child abuse. Despite this the film does have a couple of good moments, especially the scene where Embry falls in love with a prostitute, and I was impressed by the lack of sugary overt-sentiment but the film outlasts its welcome. This, unfortunately, joins Baby’s Day Out as one of the worst films John Hughes has been attached to.
Anchor Bay have released this film in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and it is anamorphic enhanced. Picture quality is generally good with excellent colour reproduction and skin tones appear natural. The night scenes look clear but the image does lack a little detail. There is some shimmering present on the print but it seems free from any obvious age marks.
Only a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is present on the disc so any enforced surround through the amp feels awkwardly separated. Dialogue is clear and there are some surround effects across the front channels.
Theatrical Trailer - Anchor Bay have only provided a trailer and four TV Spots for the film.
One of John Hughes’ worst films gets a solid, budget release on DVD. For fans, it provides the film in its original aspect ratio and it is a decent presentation, whilst it isn’t surprising any effort was made to produce additional features for the disc.
Daniel Stephens takes a look at this comedy written by John Hughes.