Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 10, 2020)
In 1989, Macaulay Culkin made his first appearance in a John Hughes project via Uncle Buck. A year later, Home Alone made him a major star.
Oh, and John Candy was in Buck, too.
Due to a family emergency, Bob Russell (Garrett M. Brown) needs someone to care for his kids Tia (Jean Louisa Kelly), Miles (Culkin) and Maizy (Gaby Hoffmann). When he and wife Cindy (Elaine Bromka) can’t find anyone else, they recruit Bob’s ne’er-do-well brother Buck (Candy).
Though unqualified to care for a house plant, Buck tries his best. He meets resistance from the kids, primarily due to teen Tia’s rebellious nature.
Candy first worked on a Hughes project via his small role in 1983’s Vacation, but then they became a real pair with 1987’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
In addition to Buck, Candy would star in Hughes’ 1988 comedy The Great Outdoors, and he’d play small roles/cameos in most of Hughes’ other projects through 1991. Planes remains the most famous flick in which Candy starred, but Buck maintains a good audience as well.
Given my nearly life-long love for SCTV, I maintain a soft spot for Candy. He never became my favorite SCTV performer, but I loved all of them, so I always find myself happy to see him.
I also feel pleased that Candy returned to form with Buck after he got miscast in the lousy Outdoors. With Buck, he gets a role that similar to his Del Griffith in Planes, as he again plays the lovable slob.
Not that Buck offers a Del clone, as the two differ quite a lot. Whereas Del was warm and naïve, Buck comes across as more conniving and world-wise.
Buck never seems sleazy, per se, but he lacks Del’s innocence. If you followed SCTV, Buck is closer to Johnny LaRue, whereas Del was Yosh Schmenge.
As stated, this comes as a relief after Candy found himself stuck as straight man in Outdoors, while Dan Aykroyd played the wild, loutish character, the kind of role more up Candy’s alley. Perhaps Candy resisted typecasting and wanted the less broad role in Outdoors, but it didn’t work, so Buck turns into a more suitable part.
And Candy does just fine, even if Hughes’ script never challenges him. Though an immense comedic talent, Candy rarely found himself in movies that pushed him to excel,
Not that Candy didn’t act in some good movies, of course, but he ended up in some real clunkers as well. He deserved better.
Buck doesn’t wind up as one of his stronger movies, but it also stays away from the bottom of the pile. When it entertains – which happens with reasonable frequency – it does so largely due to Candy, as he carries the movie.
Like many of his scripts, Hughes’ screenplay tends toward lazy humor and loose story. Buck follows two narratives: Buck “growing up” and accepting a potential parental role, and Buck’s rivalry with Tia.
The first theme works fine. Sure, it echoes many other movies – like 1987’s hit Three Men and a Baby - but it remains a serviceable concept, and with Candy as the maturing manchild, that side of things seems fun.
However, the Tia narrative feels out of place and forced. I get the impression Hughes thought he needed a serious side to the film, so he tossed in the clumsy conflict between uncle and niece.
This never goes anywhere. We know that eventually Buck will win over Tia, and the journey to that outcome sputters.
It doesn’t help that Buck paints Tia as a nearly 100 percent unlikable character. Sure, the film tries to add some sympathy to her tale, as we see how the family’s recent move impacted her life.
However, the movie rarely attempts to soften her, and Kelly plays Tia as such a relentlessly nasty piece of work that the audience never roots for her. Granted, one could argue that Kelly gives a performance that works in real life, but she seems out of place in this sort of comedy.
Candy’s interactions with Culkin prove fun, at least. There’s a good reason Culkin became a star at such a young age, and his precocious talents make him a lively comedic partner.
Does Uncle Buck end up as one of the better John Hughes movies? No, but thanks to its lead actor, it delivers just enough entertainment to keep it afloat.
Footnote: a tiny comedic tag appears after the end credits.