9 March 2003 | britishdominion
Where Have You Gone, John Hughes?
You can probably use the old Woody Allen line, "I like your earlier, funny ones" in describing the ENTIRE career of writer/director John Hughes.
The list rattles off like 80's Night on TBS: from "National Lampoon's Vacation" and "Sixteen Candles" to "Pretty In Pink" and "Planes, Trains & Automobiles". Hughes was a filmmaker who literally caught lightning in a bottle - a former advertising copywriter who had the marrow of moviegoers' funnybones and could write smart dialogue and smart situations like nobody else at that time. Hughes literally cranked out some of the most hilarious, most loved films of the 1980's, ones that will stand the test of time.
Over time, Hughes also seemingly asked himself that, in the movie biz, why improve on a good thing when you can just repeat it. His canon of work ALSO includes "Some Kind Of Wonderful" (a hollow sex-reverse of "Pretty In Pink"), "Career Opportunities", "Home Alone 2" (awful), "Curly Sue" (incredibly awful), "Baby's Day Out", "Dutch" (a "Planes, Trains..." ripoff) and others.
By finally, completely tarnishing his former luster by cranking the same few movies out, he cruised into a lazy write-o-bot/photocopier mode by catering to snot-nose "Home Alone" kids instead of speaking to his fan base that followed him from the promise of his articles in National Lampoon Magazine through to smaller pix like "Nate & Hayes", "National Lampoon's Class Reunion" and the hit "Mr. Mom", into his 'teenage' phase, and then onto more adult-themed projects like "She's Having A Baby".
Let me put this as forwardly as possible: I like John Hughes' work. He fueled some of the happiest movie-going experiences in the 80's, and even after burning audiences with (very) lesser efforts, his former glories made makes us look forward to the next "A John Hughes Production" title credit. And then he dropped off the face of the earth. Secretly, under various pseudonyms, he cranked out scripts for low class fare as "Beethoven" and more recently "Maid In Manhattan", and was frequently subjected to the scourge of being rewritten by others.
So, it was with great trepidation but certainly a great bit of interest that I recently took in the 1998 (basically) direct-to-video feature, "Reach The Rock". The film is another John Hughes-penned-but-not-directed youth tale, occurring over the course of just one hot summer night in Hughes's fictional "hometown" of Shermerville, Illinois. It's the simple, straight-forward story of a young "punk" (Alessandro Nivola - later of "Jurassic Park 3") with nothing much to do and not a lot going for him. When he crosses paths with town top cop William Sadler ("Die Hard 2"), the showdown is set for a quiet, chatty battle of wills between two very headstrong characters.
The film takes a very leisurely approach in the showdown between these two characters - the lion's share of the plotted dialogue slowly unfolds between each in the town's jailhouse, and the two cross wits, barbs and truths over the course of the film's running time.
That's right: Hughes is at it again, repeating former glories, going back to the same well. He has taken the showdown/confessional/plot points between Judd Nelson and Paul Gleason from Hughes' touchstone, "The Breakfast Club" and expanded that conflict into this picture. But guess what? It works! Perhaps the passing of time (say, 13 years) has allowed the prolific writer an opportunity to revisit that dogeared script and "stretch" well under the radar of film criticism (this Universal-backed film never received anything approaching a limited release by its distributor).
The film is SLOOOOOOOOW, but director William Ryan makes the timing work in the picture's favour. Over the course of one night, lives are changed, people are changed and attitudes are changed. And there's a LOT of talk. It's like a play - a showdown between the (conveniently) whip-smart kid and the cop who isn't the clichéd hardass.
The action on-screen is cerebral, and Hughes' writing is crisp and assured. Taking place over the course of the middle of the night, the movie has a great sense of time and small-town place. A subplot involving chief Sadler's horny deputy is prefunctory, and serves as a sluggish diversion to the main attraction. "Reach The Rock" is absolutely nothing special for the casual viewer without a modicum of patience, but for fans of the same John Hughes that wrote some of the smartest, funniest and most thoughtful pictures of 80's, we extend a warm "welcome back".