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The Great Outdoors
1988 - PG - 91 Mins.
Director: Howard Deutch
Producer: John Hughes
Written By: John Hughes
Starring: John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, Stephanie Faracy, Annette Bening, Chris Young
Review by: John Ulmer
"The Great Outdoors" is one of those movies that you love to sit down with your family and watch over and over again, the type of movie that isn't necessarily a great film, but is lifted out of mediocrity by a terrific cast and lively joy surrounding it that is undeniably there. There isn't really anything that makes it worth watching, other than the funny comic cast that lends it a certain familiarity. It's not an underrated great comedy like "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," but rather an underrated mediocre comedy, one that you can watch over and over, almost as a tradition, and never get tired of, but furthermore, never fully understand its charm.

The film stars John Candy as Chet, a down-to-earth kinda guy who wants to give his family (a wife and two sons) a great vacation in the great outdoors, away from civilization and modern conveniences. Chet's family does not necessarily appreciate what he is doing for them but rather the thought, and so they go along with the oblivious Chet out into the middle of nowhere, staying in a log cabin infested by who-knows-what.

Chet is happy all the way up until they arrive at their cabin, because upon arrival they are greeted by Chet's glob of a brother, Roman (Dan Aykroyd), who shows up unannounced with his snobby wife (Annette Bening) and strange little twin girls (who serve to be a damper on the film, as they are almost so creepy it hurts the movie.)

Chet bites his tongue and watches Roman squirm his way into the cabin. As in most films like these, Chet seems to be the only one who notices how annoying Roman is. Remember "What About Bob," when Dr. Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss) seemed to be the only one who resented an oddball patient named Bob (Bill Murray)? It's a bit like this with Chet and Roman. Chet's family doesn't seem to mind Roman, but Chet does. And in resenting Roman, Chet realizes he is being selfish, so he subconsciously, unknowingly pretends his family is bothered by Roman, which justifies him hating Roman and wanting him to leave. I bet you never thought I'd start reviewing this on a psychological level, eh? I guess you got more than you bargained for.

The script was written by John Hughes, who directed my favorite comedy of all time, "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" (1987), which also starred Candy. Hughes and Candy had a long-time collaboration - Hughes was even writing another script for Candy when John passed away in 1994. But what can be said about Hughes is that he tends to create real characters in realistic situations, with a clear sense of focus on what he wants to get across. It is only in recent years his scripts have been becoming more and more muddled ("Home Alone 3," "101 Dalmations"), and this may very well be because the times have passed on, yet John Hughes is still, in a way, living in the 80s, the decade that made him one of the most successful filmmakers within a short period of time. (His films such as "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and "The Breakfast Club" are icons of the eighties, and still have adamant fans to this day.)

A film like "The Great Outdoors" is mediocre at best, and I don't think anyone will say otherwise. Sure, there are a few funny scenes like when Chet goes on an accidental waterskiing trip, or when Chet and Roman try to rid their house of a bat, only to enter into the cabin wearing a crazy assortment of items. These are the type of cheap comical gags that would sink a normal film, but watching John Candy and Dan Aykroyd go through the motions is something more. Especially Candy, God rest his soul, who could and continues to always make me laugh.

I think that there's a certain charm about "The Great Outdoors," one that invites the viewer, lets the viewer know what they're in for, but entertains the viewer during the course of the film. The first time I saw "The Great Outdoors" I shrugged it off as another typical 80s film - which it is, in a way - but I found myself watching it every time it appeared on television since. I even tape recorded it last year and have since watched many of the funny parts over and over. This is an excrutiatingly mediocre comedy, one that goes through all the motions, but at the same time has a strange, undeniable charm about it that entices the viewer. It may not be a great comedy, "technically," but I guarantee it will be one that you'll come back to every once and a while, just for familiarity's sake.
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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