Although Thanksgiving is represented as a cartoon turkey on calendars countrywide, culturally serves as the stuffing between two meaty holidays. Halloween overflows like a Brach’s candy corn bag with horror films and spooky songs. Bookending Thanksgiving, Christmas holds a meaty collection of movies, TV specials and a catalog of music too heavy for Santa’s sleigh. Sadly, unlike the overloaded table, the Thanksgiving media department is sparse. If you’re looking to get in the holiday spirit, check out “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” John Candy and Steve Martin pair up as an unlikely duo on a laugh-out-loud Thanksgiving journey. The premise isn’t terribly original, but the gags and delivery more than compensate. It’s a great way to gear up for Turkey Day or digest for a few post-meal hours.
“Planes, Trains and Automobiles” is set two days before Thanksgiving. As the name suggests, the action centers on the holiday rush to get home. Thanks to weather delays, marketing exec Neal Page (Steve Martin) and overbearing yet resourceful salesman Del Griffith (John Candy) cross paths. Despite Page’s best efforts to ditch Griffith, they continue to bump into one another, largely due to Griffith’s Labrador-like persistence. The general scenarios which the pair fall into aren’t necessarily new or unexpected. For instance, from the beginning there’s no secret that the trip to Chicago will be ill-fated. Luckily this isn’t a movie meant to throw the audience off-guard. Rather, the humor and unexpected moments derive from the chemistry, or anti-chemistry, of Candy and Martin and the brilliant script.
Initially a mad-dash for a cab to the airport pushes Page and Griffith together. While Page hassles for a cab, Griffith slides in the back and the vehicle takes off. Naturally Page and Griffith both have tickets on the same flight to Chicago, which gets (you guessed it) rerouted. Upon landing unexpectedly in Wichita, Griffith suggests Page accompany him to a motel where he has a connection with the owner. The ensuing sequence is one of the most hilarious parts of the entire film. Be warned, you may have to pause the movie to wipe the tears from your eyes due to extreme bouts of laughter.
As the movie makes readily apparent, if something can go wrong, it will. Page and Griffith are robbed, the train breaks down, they wreck their rental car, and end up in an eighteen wheeler. These aren’t exactly spoilers since difficulty in transit becomes the standard. Action tends to be goofy in a “Tommy Boy” way, and dialogue is phenomenal. The banter between Page and Griffith flows naturally, and the exaggerated deliveries, especially Candy’s, incite genuine gut-thundering laughter.
Musically “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” contains a few amazingly orchestrated scenes. One finds a delirious John Candy smoking a cigarette and dancing to Ray Charles’ “Mess Around” while the car swerves disturbingly across the icy road. Griffith, attempting to remove his jacket, gets the sleeve stuck in the seat adjustment knob. The entire scene remains in-sync with the music, and culminates with the previously sleeping Page groggily asking if everything is alright.
Yet despite this and a few other appropriate uses of backing song, musically the film falters. This isn’t a huge issue by any means, but prepare for some obnoxiously ‘80’s tunes bursting forth from your speakers. Predictability also plagues “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” though originality in script and acting makes this almost a non-issue. The movie’s only true flaw is the ending. There’s a sentimental twist which actually manages to eek a surprise into the narrative, which works well. But the preceding slideshow of memories from Page and Griffith’s wacky journey comes across pretty cheesy. Just chalk it up to the era and keep watching. It definitely doesn’t ruin the film, but the first 95% of the flick is by far the strongest. Saying this is the best Thanksgiving movie isn’t really fair considering the decided lack of competition. Not only does “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” hold this deserved title, but it is truly one of the funniest comedies to date, and this as perfect a time as any to stuff yourself with humor.