Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 47 min.
Release Date: July 19th, 1991 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Peter Faiman Actors: Ed O’Neill, Ethan Randall, JoBeth Williams, Christopher McDonald, Ari Meyers, E.G. Daily, Kathleen Freeman, Will Nipper
atalie (JoBeth Williams) was previously married to the snobbish, ludicrously wealthy Reed Standish (Christopher McDonald) before he tired of her and tossed her aside. At a lavish dinner party thrown by Reed’s rich colleagues, Natalie gets an opportunity to introduce her new, working-class boyfriend, Dutch Dooley (Ed O’Neill), who clearly doesn’t mix well with the extreme upper class – but who also represents a rebelliousness and a ruggedness that Natalie readily flaunts. Of course, Natalie didn’t depart without a few things from Reed, including a house, a paycheck, and joint custody of their son Doyle (Ethan Randall) – an obnoxious, bratty, friendless junior-high-schooler, who feels superior to everyone at his ritzy boarding school, and who cruelly has no respect for his loving mother, as he misguidedly blames her solely for the split. And his bad attitude is further exacerbated by tormenting classmates.
When Reed has to travel to London instead of picking up his son in Atlanta for Thanksgiving, Dutch offers to drive down and retrieve the boy for Natalie. After all, it will provide him with a chance to bond with the kid. But Doyle is so consumed with hatred (and withdrawing further from society) that Dutch certainly has his work cut out for him – his initial meeting begins with an assault by a golf club and a shooting from a BB gun. But Dutch eventually convinces Doyle to accompany him – gagged and tied to a hockey stick. Despite their violent first impressions, Dutch proposes some interesting ideas to make the road trip to Chicago a bit of fun for both of them.
“Dutch” follows the tried-and-true formula of combining a rambunctious, spoiled brat with a fun-loving, tough-guy father figure. Their ensuing battles are consistently entertaining, riddled with class warfare insults and unsound pranks (one of which involves abandoning Doyle on the side of a snowy road, over fifty miles from the nearest hotel, resulting in grand theft auto). With each stunt, the retributions and reactions escalate, some becoming quite dangerous and unexpected. In a more contemporary movie, Doyle would be in need of some serious psychiatric help – instead of refreshingly old-fashioned disciplining (which nowadays might be considered child abuse). He’s more deviously intelligent than the average movie terror, which leads to complex conflicts and swindles – and more pleasing, slapstick-oriented resolutions.
Dutch is a grandly agreeable protagonist, being both sensible and crude. He’s something of a kid at heart, unafraid to be childish when the occasion arises. And cracking the diabolically tough shell of Doyle creates plenty of opportunities to reconnect with his pervasive, youthful adventurism. But more than just representing a relatable guy, Dutch’s character gets to speak many of the truths that other theatrical roles wouldn’t have the gall to reveal. This is largely due to John Hughes’ writing abilities, demonstrating a knack for humanism and believable characters and relationships (even if cinematically exaggerated or boisterous). Dutch is honest, respectable, and a realistic hero, ready with wit and street smarts to counter Doyle’s persistent, immature rivalry. In the end, as anticipated (and appreciated), Doyle will learn a thing or two from Dutch’s compassion, belief in elbow grease, self-sufficiency, and male pride. And even though it takes about 15 minutes longer than it should, the experience is well worth it.
– Mike Massie