In "Only the Lonely," Chris Columbus and John Hughes have tried to buck the summer tides and make a film that's sweet and intimate, that's concerned with real people and their problems, that's a veritable tapestry of the human condition. Too bad it sucks.
Call it "Only the Phony." Lethargic and dull and about as close to authentic experience as Spam is to meat, it appears to be a clunky remake of Paddy Chayefsky's brilliant and biting and real "Marty" of 1955.
In "Marty," the hero was a dumpy butcher; in "Only the Lonely" -- which, incidentally, seems to bear no relationship to the smoky, evocative Roy Orbison song from which it takes its title -- the hero is a cop. But where Ernest Borgnine was vulnerable, crotchety, bitter, desperate and truly only the lonely, John Candy is a blob of affability undistinguished by other personality traits.
This is the worst performance in Candy's otherwise amusing career: His affability is boring and he has zero chemistry with co-star Ally Sheedy, who herself has developed into a pretty off-putting screen presence. Maureen O'Hara has some loud fun in a Grand Guignol version of the Bad Mama who tries to keep them apart, but her brand of blather is so remorseless and unbelievable that it grows braying too soon.
The movie is set in another fantasy of Irish Chicago -- I kept waiting for the battlin' McCaffrey boys, Kurt Russell and William Baldwin, to blow in and put out a fire -- and it follows as mama-pecked fatty Candy meets a young woman, falls in love and tries to find the strength to marry her.
Columbus walks away from the most provocative subtext in the relationship, other than to squeeze some cheap laughs out of it. Both Candy and Sheedy are in some sense death professionals. The medium of their employment is corpses; he's a "wagon driver" who picks the urban dead off the streets and she's a mortuary cosmetician who turns the more polite dead into painted faces for their final ceremonies. Columbus doesn't care; his characters don't even notice.
The rest is dull domestic melodrama out of "Abby's Irish Rose," primitively motivated and usually unbelievable. In one instance -- after Candy has actually taken the step, the betrothal is announced, the reconciliation between his Irish and her Italian cultures affected -- Sheedy suddenly dumps him because he decides to call mama to make sure she made it home. But the call was certainly practical: He'd seen his mother getting in a car with someone who was drunk.
Columbus tries to heat the action up now and then with some fantasy sequences in which Candy's guilt torments him into imagining grisly demises for mama. They feel arbitrary and cheesy, but they do allow him to blow up an oil tank-truck in the middle of a domestic melodrama.
It's probably a smart move. The exploding oil truck is the best thing in the movie.
'Only the Lonely'
Starring John Candy, Ally Sheedy and Maureen O'Hara.
Directed by Christopher Columbus.
Released by 20th Century-Fox.