Wagons East (1994) — A sad way to bid John Candy farewell

“Goodbye, my friends. Remember, if you’re ever in my country again, I’ll have to kill you.”

Justin’s rating: No frills, unlike Candy’s jacket

Justin’s review: While pretty much every actor has an embarrassing movie at the start of a career, there are often some pretty bad stinkers waiting at the end of their run, too. It always seems like a mixture of sadness and shame to go out on a low note, but hey, so many do. So let us not think unkindly of John Candy, whose last role in Wagons East was taken to pay the bills and fulfill a contract.

While a western comedy pops up at the rate of every five years or so, they can’t all be Blazing Saddles — or even Cannibal: The Musical. The problem, I think, is that there’s a whole lot of low-hanging fruit with mocking westerns that’s been overplucked. Plus, there’s a tendency to skew to the slapstick as a way to avoid being clever. Such efforts result in stuff like Wagons East, where cowboys can’t count past three and Indians have ridiculous names.

That said, the basic premise of this film isn’t terrible. A town of disillusioned settlers decide to throw in the towel and head back east to their former lives. That flips the script nicely, don’t it? Well, you best think that this is a knee-slapping hilarious premise, because the film is going to dangle it in front of you a lot.

This group includes cow rancher Phil (Richard Lewis), bookstore owner Julian (John C. McGinley, showing us what Dr. Cox would be like as extremely effeminate), bank teller Ben (Robert Picardo), and prostitute Belle (Ellen Greene). They’re all the kind of people who get kicked around by the tougher sorts in the west, and so they hire a sloppy wagon master, James Harlow (Candy) to see them safely home.

The “conflict,” so to speak, comes from the government sending out mercenaries to stop anyone from coming back to the crowded east. The logic here is that if people return from the west, no one will want to head out to settle the frontier. I mean… I guess we have to go with it? Kind of think that they could’ve come up with a better threat, but it’s not like the scriptwriters were gunning for an Oscar here.

Also, Harlow is a drunk and a bit of an idiot, which makes everyone in the wagon train rightly doubt his ability to lead them. John Candy clearly know that this was a stinker of a role and isn’t bothering to give us a hero worth cheering. And his co-star Richard Lewis doesn’t do much to pick up the slack. Granted, I have only liked Lewis in one thing — Robin Hood: Men in Tights — and am more than happy to leave him in a pit of Forgotten ’90s Comedians.

There’s nothing sadder than a comedy movie that can’t be bothered to crack good jokes, because then the audience is left with nothing of interest to watch. I mean, there are two future cast members of Star Trek Voyager here (Ethan Phillips has a small role). But that’s about it for side entertainment. Everything about this movie, from the soundtrack to the gags, screams “LAZY!” at the top volume.

I was hoping for a morsel or two of genuine ’90s delights, but all this is good for is the very morbid exercise of trying to figure out which scenes have stunt doubles and CGI standing in for Candy after his death. That ain’t no way for a reviewer to watch, let me tell you.

Didja notice?

  • The population notice counts down.
  • Hey, it’s Robert Picardo!
  • That is a sign indeed
  • The great doll rescue of ’94
  • Those are some tiny sunglasses, mate
  • The kids having to go potty on the trip was slightly amusing

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