Wagons East

Wagons East! Carolco Pictures 1994.

Before watching the movie:

Yes, it’s another John Candy movie. Why? Because not only does one of my primary sources of films have a ridiculous amount of John Candy movies, it’s actually started recommending them to me. This film was recommended to me by Hulu after I watched the last potboiler starring him to appear on this blog, and I chose to review it today because a lot of people, myself included, are falling over themselves about a certain Wild West-themed video game. Will this be fun for fans of that game I will not name, or will it be a counterexample to the genre?

It also stars Richard Lewis, who seems to have blipped through Hollywood in the early 90s, never seen before or since.

During/After watching the movie:

The town of Prosperity, somewhere out west, has a small group of malcontents who simply don’t belong on the frontier. One bad day, they all decide to go back East, and hire the first Wagon Master that collapses on their doorstep, John Candy. Not only is he maybe not the best Wagon Master that ever lead a migration, the railroad company, worried that quitting could become a trend and destroy their industry, sends agents to stop them by any means necessary.

I wanted to like this film, and I enjoyed most of it. For instance, a good percentage of the jokes are funny, and the actors are mostly enjoyable to watch. The headliners seem miscast, though. John Candy isn’t playing to his type or against it, he just isn’t the kind of person who belongs leading a wagon train. Richard Lewis could have been hilarious as a fish out of water in the West, but he’s trying to be the leader of a group of city folks.

I also have to agree with the critics that the story is badly handled. The concept had great potential, but the execution was lacking. There are almost a dozen sympathetic characters, and half of them are contenders for the “main” character. Some of them even have arcs. Some of those arcs are even resolved skillfully.

I cannot believe this was written by one person. Richard Lewis’s character had an arc introduced and resolved in the second act, “Julian” the gay guy is brought out of the closet too early and has his big dramatic moment halfway through the movie, and the evil agent the railway hires gets killed in the second act and replaced with the US Cavalry. The only character who really has his story told properly is John Candy’s “Harlow,” and the story is not from his point of view.

What I did enjoy about this movie were the side characters. Robert Picardo (from Star Trek: Voyager), John McGinley (from Scrubs),  and Ethan Phillips (also from Voyager) have very fun roles that I loved watching, there’s a family of hick brothers whom I don’t understand why they came on the trip but bring more laughs, and the women have a good scene or two as well. The leader of the Cavalry either should have had more time or, if he couldn’t be expanded upon,  none at all.

The best way to watch this film is to forget that it’s a story, and just let it happen at you. The characters ham their way through an adventure that’s as much fun as the writing is awful.

Watch this movie: and pretend it was written by someone good.

Don’t watch this movie: If your idea of a cinematic gay cowboy needs to cry.

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