On the Road,Again

Two utterly mismatched men tooling along on the road is an old,old Hollywood thing.

Written by Shubhra Gupta | Published: March 12, 2011 11:37:55 pm

Two utterly mismatched men tooling along on the road is an old,old Hollywood thing. It keeps getting recycled every once in a while because it is such a delicious device. Mismatched-women-on-the-road also rears its head once in a while,but somehow it’s never been such a durable idea: even the most mismatched of women will find a way to get around the prickliest companion; most men,on the other hand,will continue to want to stare the other down.

Planes,Trains And Automobiles (1987) has Steve Martin and John Candy doing the chalk- and-cheese thing. Neal Page (Martin) is a clean-cut executive trying to get home to his wife and kids for Thanksgiving. Del Griffith (Candy) is an overweight marketing guy,burdened with an oversized case and all kinds of tics that would irritate even the most even-tempered fellow,not just Page,an increasingly desperate adman snowbound in America.

In ideal circumstances,Page wouldn’t give Griffith the time of the day. But these conditions are far from that: a severe snowstorm grounds planes,trains and automobiles — all modes of transport the two men take to get to their destination. Of course,they get there. Not getting home for Thanksgiving would turn it into a horror film,and this is so clearly set up as a comedy that you wonder why director John Hughes decided on including a delightful patch which got it an R-rating when it came out in 1987. Actually,you do know,because sometimes cussing up a blue streak is the only way to vent.

This is how it goes: after his cancelled flight dumps him in the middle of nowhere,Page is trying to hire a car. He trudges out to the lot,icy wind turning him into an icicle. When he does make it there,there’s no sign of his rental. The bus that’s dropped him takes off. He has to trudge all the way back,sliding down a snowbank,to the car rental outlet. A fat,lipsticked woman keeps him waiting,as she yaks on the phone,so when she does get off it,and asks him,“Can I help you?”,he lets loose a volley of F words: I lost count after 10 repetitions.

More than Martin,who is cast here against type as the uptight family man,it is John Candy who makes this memorable. Watching it again,after so many years,you realise that at one point comedy didn’t just mean empty gags strung together in a depressingly slim plot. Candy starts out by making Griffith a guy who you want to poke fun at,just as his reluctant co-traveller does. But somewhere in the middle,you begin to like him,with all his foibles — his huge suitcase that needs to be unpacked all the way in every motel room,and his habit of soaking his smelly socks in the sink. By the end,you know you will miss him.

Due Date,a 2010 retread of Planes,Trains And Automobiles,on the other hand,gives you a few laughs when it is on. That’s it. You’re done when the movie,directed by Todd “Hangover” Phillips,is done.

Robert Downey Jr plays the Martin character,only instead of family and Thanksgiving and Chicago,the former has to get to Los Angeles to be at his wife’s side when she gives birth to their first child. And Zach Galifianakis reprises Candy’s lumbering character,but he is more mannerism than man. Robert Downey Jr is tolerable in a dishy A-type way,but the real winner is a spaced-out drug dealer played by Juliette Lewis in a tiny,very tiny,cameo.

shubhra.gupta@expressindia.com

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