Saturday, 30 August 2008

No.51 : Wagons East

Wagons East at the IMDb

Before we begin a word on the title. Although the poster has it as ‘Wagons East!’ the title card on the film doesn't have the exclamation mark. I’ll go with what the movie says and attribute the exclamation mark to an over zealous marketing man who may have thought that the added bit of punctuation would suggest extra zest and excitement. He was wrong.

‘Wagons East’ is notorious, both for being a bad comedy and for being John Candy’s last film - he died on location and his scenes had to be re-cut or finished with a stand in before the film was excreted by the studio.

The film opens with the familiar western map, but sadly, unlike ‘Bonanza’ it doesn't catch fire and give us all an early night. The frontier town of Prosperity has a few disgruntled citizens. John C. McGinley’s gay bookseller can only attract customers for toilet paper and Richard Lewis’ cattle baron aspirations are being thwarted by bare faced rustlers. After sharing their concerns with other bar patrons they decide to head back east - if they get a sign from god. This is duly delivered in the shape of an east pointing weather cock and a collapsing John Candy, who was foretelling his own fate without knowing it.

The feeble group, who include the town’s well covered prostitute, abandon their town the next day to begin their perilous journey. Their choice of guide in Candy is quickly questioned when he gets them lost and then sets up camp in the dark in what turns out to be an Indian village.

Meanwhile the corrupt railroad chief is unhappy - this exodus back east may endanger his fat grants to extend the line. With this in mind he dispatches his best hit man to disrupt the group and as a back up plan enlists the help of the US cavalry. In predictable Wile E Coyote fashion the hit man is caught in all of his own traps and even the Indians help our clan, seeing the exodus as a way of reclaiming their own lands.

As the ends draws close a previously forgetful trail member recalls Candy’s shady past, just as the cavalry are sent in to repel the traitorous reverse pioneers.

I tried really hard to like this film, bearing in mind its history and top ensemble cast. Sadly I couldn’t - its stinky reputation is well deserved. The first concern, and with a comedy it’s a big one, is that there are no laughs at all. There are loads of fart and pissing jokes as well as pratfalls and slapstick. None of them are funny - they don’t sit well and are heralded a mile off. Richard Lewis, who is always Larry David’s whiny pal on ’Curb Your Enthusiasm’ to me is totally miscast as a pioneer doctor . John C. McGinley, who I normally like, is cringey as the overtly gay bookseller complete with a fancy wagon and stylish line in frontier tea sets.

Candy himself is a pale shadow of his ‘Uncle Buck’ persona but is given nothing to work with. The revelation that he lead the cannibalistic Donner party is as believable as some of the later scenes where Candy is replaced by a blurry guy shot at distance. This is the ‘”two orange whips” guy for Christsakes and here we have him dying a death, sadly literally, talking a lot of unfunny rot and killing a poor horse by sitting on it.

After ‘Blazing Saddles’ it’s obviously hard to do a non-derivative comedy western but surely someone somewhere should have looked at the script and though ‘Hmm, jokes would be a good idea’. A sad end for John Candy but at least no one will remember him for this unfunny, poorly made gag free zone of an effort.

Best Bit : Get back to you on that.

‘W’ Score 5/23

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