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Marshall Fine

Marshall Fine

Posted: March 10, 2010 08:06 AM

Annals of the Over-rated: John Hughes

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I had made a personal vow not to write about the Oscar winners or the Oscar show this year, simply out of boredom and crankiness. And my instincts were borne out by the bloated, bottom-heavy production and the wholly predictable honorees.

Nor was I going to complain that several recently deceased personalities - including Farrah Fawcett, James Whitmore and Bea Arthur - were skipped over in the maudlin memorial section of the show. Except that then the show's producers devoted several precious minutes to a tribute to John Hughes.

John Hughes?

You've got to be kidding, right?

Yes, yes, I know - he's a Gen-X (and even Gen-Y) god, the man who got teen-agers. But a lengthy retrospective of clips and a rogues' gallery of former teen stars singing his praises?

Pardon me for breaking orthodoxy, but John Hughes was a mediocre director and prolific writer who wrote more than three dozen films and directed eight. And of those, there are about three that stand the test of time: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Those are the three films in the Hughes' oeuvre which, early on, had me convinced for a moment that Hughes was a genuine talent.

Then he began repeating himself. And then he turned to cranking out bad comedy after bad comedy - unalloyed trash like The Great Outdoors, Career Opportunities, Beethoven. Worst of all was a remake of Miracle on 34th Street that modernized the original by removing the storyline in which Kris Kringle's sanity was questioned, substituting instead a charge of pedophilia. Talk about a laugh-getter.

Of the scripts Hughes wrote, a few had the quality of Pretty in Pink (which he remade two years later as Some Kind of Wonderful). Many more, however, had the scope of garbage such as Curly Sue, Dutch, the numerous Home Alone sequels and Dennis the Menace.

The original Home Alone? Lots of laughs - but it also contained a level of sadism usually not seen outside a Looney Tunes cartoon (and which Hughes himself surpassed in the dreadful Baby's Day Out).

Uncle Buck and Planes, Trains and Automobiles? Both were an uneasy and highly uneven mix of class-comedy (or, more accurately, low-class comedy) and schmaltzy sentimentality. No matter how mean Hughes was to his characters, he always tried to put a lump in the collective throat of the audience at the end, as though this redeemed the mediocrity.

Later on, Hughes would rewrite (and destroy) such Disney films as Flubber and 101 Dalmatians (with a live version). After a while, the Hughes name on a film was a sure signal that it should be avoided - which may explain why he went into hiding (and writing under the oh-so-clever name, Edmond Dantes, as though, like the Count of Monte Cristo, Hughes had a revenge plot, perhaps against all the critics who called him on his crap).

I refrained from writing this after Hughes died last August. It seemed churlish and not something that needed to be expressed at that moment.

But the Oscar tribute was too much to ignore. John Hughes was not some cinematic giant - just a guy who made a couple of good movies, a handful of successful ones and a whole lot of lousy ones.

Just another reason to hate this year's Oscar show.

Find more reviews, interviews and commentary on my website.

 
 
 

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