Monday, September 8, 2014

Canadian Bacon - 1995

"Canadian Bacon" - 1995
Dir. by Michael Moore - 1 hr. 31 min.

Official Trailer #1

by Clayton Hollifield

There's three or four reasons why "Canadian Bacon" is a movie of (minor) importance.  First off, it's director Michael Moore's one and only non-documentary film.  Also, it's the last film released that starred John Candy.  Aside from that, there are a ton of cameos from notable actors and comedians, and it feels like some of this concept might have been borrowed for "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut."  But while this is a genial, light-hearted movie (a lot of the credit for which goes to Candy and co-star Rhea Perlman, who are great at playing dimwits), it's also a movie built on a poor foundation, questionable character motivation, and not enough quality material for it's cast to chew upon.

Because of the end of the Cold War, prosperity and peace have overtaken the nation, which is bad for the military industrial complex.  R.J. Hacker (G.D. Spradlin) has closed his munitions factory in Niagara Falls, forcing thousands of employees to find new jobs.  Some, like Bud Boomer (John Candy) and Honey (Rhea Perlman), have found work with the local police force.  Others, like Roy Boy (Kevin J. O'Connor), decide to kill themselves.  The President (Alan Alda) makes an appearance at the Hacker surplus auction to try and boost his sagging popularity, but all the appearance does is introduce Hacker to Stu Smiley (Kevin Pollak), the Secretary of Defense, and they conspire.  After a failed attempt to get Russia to re-kindle the Cold War just for appearances' sake, Smiley and Hacker hatch a plan to paint Canada as the new enemy of America, which will distract Americans from their dwindling opportunities.  Boomer, Honey, Roy Boy, and Kabral (Bill Nunn) take this hook, line, and sinker, and things escalate from there.

There are exactly two good scenes in "Canadian Bacon."  The first is when Boomer sets off a riot at a hockey game by insulting Canadian beer.  The second involves a cameo by Dan Aykroyd, where plays a Canadian Policeman who demands that the anti-Canadian slurs spray-painted on the side of the truck that Boomer is driving must also be in French, so as to agree with the dual-language requirements of Canada.  Beyond that, all the good things about "Canadian Bacon" involve watching John Candy gamely trying to make the most out of what he's given (and he's so good at that, it generates a lot of good-will towards the film), and a rare movie appearance by Rhea Perlman.

Everything else is pretty bad, though.  "Canadian Bacon" isn't necessarily a hard film to get through - it's not incompetent or offensive (at least on this side of the border), it's simply poorly written.  Without turning this into a dissertation on why character motivation matters, the basic point is that none of the characters seem to have any reason to do much of anything.  The President eventually decides to demonize Canada because re-kindling the Cold War will help him win a second term, but he's so wishy-washy and easily manipulated that I can't believe anyone cares whether he achieves that goal.  Even worse, the goal isn't a simple accomplishment, but rather hoping to create tension between the nations to distract everyone from how bad things are around them.  So if the President succeeds, he's a con-man, and if he fails, he's a pussy.  These are the stakes of this film.  Furthermore, neither Hacker nor Smiley seem very intimidating, nor even adequately caffeinated.  I guess Hacker wants more money, which is supposed to make him super-evil, but he doesn't really come off that way.  And Kevin Pollak has been in roles where he was sleazy and/or intimidating, but none of that comes through here at all.  And this is the relationship that's supposed to be driving the machinations of the entire movie.  This is, in a way, a save-the-house film where we don't care whether or not the house gets saved, and neither do we even get some entertaining hijinks along the way (which is the entire point of a save-the-house comedy - it's a loose framework to allow comedic actors to ply their craft).

Whatever you might think of Michael Moore, at least he had the common sense to see that this fiction/comedy thing wasn't going to work out for him, and went back to making his versions of documentaries.  It's unfortunate that this was the last real movie of John Candy's to get released, but that's also like 90% of the reason you'd watch "Canadian Bacon" in the first place.  Everything else here has been done better (and more sharply) in the intervening years elsewhere, and unless you've got a John Candy checklist to work your way through, that's probably where you should seek your entertainment from.

1 / 5 - TV (HD)

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