Throwback Thirty – The Great Outdoors (1988)

the_great_outdoors5_star_rating_system_2_stars John Hughes wrote a shitload of films. A hell of a lot more than I’ve ever really appreciated. Looking at his filmography has shown me just how much of an influence he had over my childhood and teenage years without me ever realising. Obviously, films like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles are classic 80s teen films that everyone knows about. Then there’s kid friendly things like Home Alone and Uncle Buck both of which I’ve loved for years. But, as it turns out, there’s absolutely loads of films I’ve always enjoyed that were written by him too. After all, what kid really pays any attention to who writes a film? I mean if I had £1 for every time my sister and I watched the 1994 film Dennis the Menace I’d had a fuckload of pound coins right now. It was only thanks to Wikipedia today that I realised it was written by non other than John Hughes. Miracle on 34th Street is one of my top 10 Christmas films without me ever realising that it was another Hughes film. So, all set with the knowledge that John Hughes is probably single-handedly responsible for my cinematic awakening, I set out to watch another of his films that I’d never seen before. Would it be another classic or another Mr Mom?

John Hughes had a close friendship with the great comic actor John Candy. Candy starred in National Lampoon’s Vacation which kickstarted Hughes’ film career. The Great Outdoors is their third major collaboration together and puts Candy on-screen with another 80s comic legend, Dan Aykroyd. Candy plays Chet Ripley and Aykroyd is Roman Craig, his investment broker brother-in-law. When Chet takes his wife and two sons to a cabin for the Summer, Roman surprises him when he brings his wife and twin daughters along to join them. There is a great deal of tension between the two families and Chet’s relaxing holiday quickly goes awry.

Chet is a rustic guy who wants to cook hotdogs on the BBQ whilst Roman is eager to cook lobster instead. Chet wants to hire a small boat until Roman hires a powerful powerboat. The pair argue non-stop and find themselves competing with each other. It’s a classic and well-worn film set-up. Something that really isn’t inescapable even with this winning combo. Neither actor really gets the chance to do their best work and simply play stereotypes of characters we’ve seen countless times before. Chet is the nice, simple guy who butts heads with the flashy Roman. Chet is a family man whilst Roman favours work. It’s all rather pedestrian and uninteresting.

The major problem is the lack of fun within the film. It doesn’t really give anyone the chance to fly. Rather than clever comedy the film relies on slapstick moments, like Chet accidentally water-skiing, or shots of a bear being shot in the arse. It’s hardly the height of wit. These moments are interspersed with overly sentimental familial drama and teenage romance. It’s the stuff of sitcoms rather than memorable comedy films. It’s hardly an offensive experience but it’s definitely not the kind of Hughes film I’ll be rushing to rewatch anytime soon. Really, the only time that I’d be willing to rewatch The Great Outdoors is when I’m stuck inside a cabin in the woods with nothing else to do.

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