I’ve been catching up on my John Landis, for better or for worse. Trading Places and Coming to America are both much better than I remembered, and I’m glad I revisited them. But Planes, Trains and Automobiles is just astonishingly unfunny. A slapdash production, clearly banking solely on the presumed charm and appeal of its stars without a solid screenplay or sense of character to back them up.
Steve Martin’s character is fuzzily defined, wavering between misanthropic big city businessman and “gee, I guess I’ll give friendship and bonhomie a shot”. While John Candy is inherently likeable, the movie makes the imitative fallacy with regards to his character: he’s gross, blunt, and crude, designed to be everything a big city guy like Martin ignores as he goes about his day. But the problem is… he actually is annoying to the audience too, making it difficult to come around to find either of these two likable or endearing. That’s fine for a complex drama, but it’s fatal for a heartwarming comedy.