Steve Martin and John Candy give pizzazz to offbeat buddy movie

John Hughes is famous for directing movies like ``Pretty in Pink'' and ``The Breakfast Club,'' which aim mostly for teen-age audiences. So it's newsy that in his latest comedy, ``Planes, Trains & Automobiles,'' he turns to adult characters. ``Planes, Trains & Automobiles'' is partly a buddy movie, about two men facing unexpected adventures. And it's partly a road movie, about a long and difficult journey.

But since the stars are Steve Martin and John Candy, you know the story will turn those Hollywood formulas on their heads. And that's exactly what happens. These guys aren't buddies, they can hardly stand each other. And their journey is nothing more complicated than a trip home for Thanksgiving - although they're such bunglers, it's far from sure they'll ever get there.

If you've ever seen ``The Odd Couple,'' the main characters will look familiar. Steve Martin plays Neal, a neat, button-down type who always travels first class and is never late for an appointment. John Candy plays Del, a likable slob who's always eating too much and talking too loud, or talking too much and eating too loud.

Their paths cross in Manhattan, when they fight over a rush-hour taxi. They get stuck with each other on a flight to Chicago, when a computer bounces Neal's reservation into the dreaded coach section.

He's seated next to ever-friendly Del, and seated together they stay when their flight gets cancelled and they're shoehorned into the same dingy motel room. Things keep getting dingier as they fight their way toward Thanksgiving dinner - in a train that breaks down, a car that burns up, a bus that's too cramped, and other unfortunate conveyances.

There's nothing very original about all this. ``Planes, Trains & Automobiles'' really is ``The Odd Couple'' with a holiday theme and a string of rambunctious but quite similar misadventures.

What gives the movie some pizzazz is the acting by Steve Martin and John Candy, who dominate the story so much you hardly realize there's anyone else on-screen. And with these two in high gear, who needs anyone else?

Martin alternates between long-suffering smiles and explosions of comic frustration. He's not as brilliant as he was in ``All of Me,'' but he still shows he's the most gifted physical comedian in movies today. Candy makes Del so sincere and so vulnerable, meanwhile, that you can't help sympathizing with the big oaf - except maybe when he leaves wet towels all over the floor, or decides to take off his socks in public.

``Planes, Trains & Automobiles'' has an R rating because of one scene when a character loses his temper and spews about two dozen four-letter words. Hughes should know by now that taboo language isn't automatically hilarious; it's too bad he limits the movie's audience for such a trivial gag.

In other respects, ``Planes, Trains & Automobiles'' is good-natured and unpretentious, except for a touch of melodrama near the end. Martin and Lewis, look out. Martin and Candy have arrived.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.