John Hughes' script for 'Dutch' is a rough draft that needs polishing

MOVIES

July 19, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

John Hughes writes the best first drafts in Hollywood Unfortunately he doesn't write second drafts, to say nothing of thirds or fourths; he just goes ahead and shoots the first drafts.

Thus the latest Hughes opus, "Dutch," from his own screenplay, issued by his own company and directed by an acolyte named Peter Faiman, might be regarded as sadly typical. It's got some nice stuff and some decent performances; but it was about six months' hard work shy of coming together on the first day of production.

The ever-engaging Ed O'Neill plays the title character, a seemingly happy-go-lucky working class stiff who has linked up romantically with a wealthy divorcee (JoBeth Williams) who also has working class origins. These she clumsily explains in the movie's first few minutes in a statement of origins so baldly perfunctory it's at least three polishes away from performability.

Well, anyway, the gambit of the movie is that over Thanksgiving Dutch volunteers to drive from Chicago to Atlanta to pick up his girlfriend's snotty little brat Doyle (played by Ethan Randall) at his private school. The movie's conceived as a kind of "Two for the Road" with kindergarten-level class dialectic added; its true road map is political correctness.

This odd couple ventures up from Atlanta and keeps encountering adventures that, in a very movie-hooey way, strip them first of car, then money and identity. Ultimately they join the reverse-Mississippi of human tragedy that flows upward toward the promised land of Chicago.

But almost nothing is worked out or developed, particularly the screenplay's own attitude toward Dutch. At times he's a ludicrous blowhard who seems deserving of the young man's icy contempt; at other times, he's a goofy child, innocent but ridiculous; and at still others, he's quietly competent, one of those stoic blue-collar aristocrats like cops and infantry sergeants who just laconically handle things.

Of course Dutch isn't what he seems to be, but the movie muffles this, its best line. We want a scene where the true Dutch reveals himself, particularly in contrast to Doyle's real father, the oleaginous Christopher MacDonald (Thelma's husband in "Thelma and Louise"), a pretentious twerp. We never get it; instead, the movie throws up a billboard explaining who Dutch really is, but this has no dramatic impact.

O'Neill, though, is halfway worth the price of admission. Like John Candy, he seems invincibly decent and good-hearted; one pines to like him. He's not without charisma, though I wish the film had allowed him to develop into something interesting.

'Dutch'

Starring Ed O'Neill.

Directed by Peter Faiman.

Released by 20th Century-Fox.

Rated PG-13.

... **

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