Movie review: ‘Dutch’

Without John Hughes’ writing, I’d imagine that “Dutch” would have be even more of a flop at the box office. Or, you might say his writing elevated it to flop status. In any case, there’s a bunch of problems with “Dutch,” which stars Ed O’Neill, but it actually is watchable and has a Hughes-type message and ending. “Dutch” is one of those films you probably didn’t see because of indifference or hearing a negative review from friends, but I know there are worse films that are better critically received and did better at the box office. However, there’s absolutely no way you can go wrong watching this one.

‘Dutch’
(1991; 107 minutes; rated PG-13; directed by Peter Faiman and starring Ed O’Neill, Ethan Embry and JoBeth Williams)

GETTING TO KNOW HIM ISN’T EASY

(NOTE: I updated this review with new links and by fixing misspellings on July 19, 2015. I expanded this review with additional trivia and opinion and the updating of links on March 4, 2017. I again expanded the review on April 17, 2020.)

The premise of someone getting to know a bratty kid isn’t a new concept to filmmakers. Plus, when you add John Hughes’ writing (and executive producing) with the director whose previous film was “Crocodile Dundee” and add a nice cast, you should have something. Well, “Dutch” has something, but it’s not always there … still, when it’s good, it’s really good.

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In “Dutch,” Ed O’Neill plays “Dutch Dooley,” a construction company owner who has a girlfriend fresh off a divorce from her society-driven husband. Her son manages to be even snootier than his father and the entire dysfunctional family is set up for nasty Thanksgiving.

Since the father is ditching the boy and leaving him at prep school, O’Neill volunteers to go get him in a way to hopefully bond with the youngster. He just doesn’t realize what he’s getting into. The duo, after a very rocky start (cue stereotype here) they start forming a bond through a harrowing crash, a car ride with couple of hookers and a night spent in a homeless shelter.

Of course, Hughes and director Peter Faiman, whose only films are “Dutch” and “Crocodile Dundee,” keep the ship on course and it comes into port nicely.

O’Neill had the liability of still being TV’s “Al Bundy” from “Married … With Children” when “Dutch” came out. However, it is difficult to separate O’Neill’s work here from the TV role (something you didn’t do when you first saw him later in the miserable PC crapfest titled “Modern Family”) because you expect him to start shouting at “Peg” at any moment.

In any case …

Embry is good, even in the scenes that are pretty much affected to show his snobbishness and, while I give O’Neill top marks for this one (and I’m probably the only reviewer to do so), he might have been second-best to play “Dutch.” There were reports at the development time that John Candy was sought to play the lead. I don’t know what happened, but Candy would have been much, much better in the role. Sorry, Ed, I like you in this one, but John would have been the best choice.

Now, on to some of the supporting cast …

  • Although Embry is suitably annoying in his snobbish ways, Christopher McDonald as “Reed Standish,” “Doyle’s” father, is pitch perfect as the society rich boy who believes social standing and money are everything. McDonald just oozes the part and had similar execrable characters in the execrable “Dirty Work” with Norm Macdonald (click here for my review) and even better as “Shooter McGavin” in the golf comedy “Happy Gilmore” with Adam Sandler (click here for my review). McDonald has a great worth ethic as he’s notched more than 200 acting credits since his first in 1978. He did have the misfortune of accepting the role of “Goose” in “Grease 2” (click here for my review).
  • I would like to have seen a bit more of Oscar nominee (not for this one) JoBeth Williams as “Natalie Standish.” Williams does good work here, but there’s not much meat to the role. She conveys her emotions easily through both look and voice inflections and had much more to offer than was given to her. Williams was also in “Kramer vs. Kramer,” “The Big Chill” and, in one of her best, as “Lisa Hammond” in “Teachers” with Nick Nolte. Williams was nominated for live action short film “On Hope.”

Outside of family, there isn’t much to look at from the supporting cast standpoint. The only ones worth mentioning are the two hookers/dancers who give the boys a ride. They are Ari Meyers as “Brock” and Elizabeth Daily as “Hailey” (she’s billed as E.G. Daily in the credits).

  • Meyers, like Daily, is solid in this somewhat small role. However, she doesn’t do anything to send the film skidding off track – and that can be a prime compliment to any actor. Her most recognizable role was a daughter in TV’s “Kate & Allie” and she has only 34 acting credits and hasn’t notched on since 2006. Meyers mixed her career with education and graduated with honors from Yale with a degree in philosophy and theater.
  • Daily, like Meyers, does a solid job and you can’t find fault with her in this one. It would have been nice to have the women’s characters time on screen expanded. Unlike Meyers, Daily has been a prolific worker in entertainment and was in “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” as “Dottie” among the more than 200 credits she’s earned since the first in 1978 – when she used her given name of Elizabeth Guttman as “Audition Dancer” in the movie “Jukebox.”

The film wraps up when O’Neill and Embry get home courtesy of the family they met at the homeless shelter. The film worked diligently – and not always successfully – to get to this point and all four principal characters (O’Neill, Williams, Embry and McDonald) save their best acting for last.

Embry’s great job in evolving the character culminates in the most poignant scene in “Dutch,” where he sets up his dinner at the table at the homeless shelter. The dinner and then getting to know a homeless family just about makes the entire film worthwhile. Actually, let me say it does make it worthwhile.

I understand why “Dutch” was eviscerated by the critics, but I have to say that you need to watch the whole thing before passing judgment. Sure, there are stereotypes; sure, there’s bad acting at times; and, sure, there some saccharine stuff that could have been avoided. However, “D” is an endearing film with a decent message once you’ve reached the end.

Watch it. You won’t be disappointed.

Dutch” did disappoint investors by making $4.6 million at the box office in 1991 and was the 146th ranked film that year (but at least it was ahead of “Mannequin Two: On the Move”), according to Box Office Mojo. It’s flop status is confirmed since it was made on a budget of $17 million, although gosh knows where the production money went. The No. 1 film that year was “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” with $204.8 million at the box office. Other films from 1991 that I’ve reviewed on this blog are:

Additional cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):

  • O’Neill and Embry worked together on the short-lived “Dragnet” TV revival series in 2003-2004. O’Neill played the familiar role of “Joe Friday” (then risen to lieutenant from the more familiar sergeant) while Embry was “Det. Frank Smith.
  • The film was released with the title “Driving Me Crazy” in the UK and Australia and to absolutely no one’s surprise, plans for a sequel never came to fruition.
  • Directly from IMDb.com: “The film was shown in Married with Children: Dial ‘B’ for Virgin (1994) where main characters, Ed O’Neill and Katey Sagal were in a video store and looked briefly at a rack that showed a poster of the film with a sign over O’Neill’s face that said ‘Free Video.’”
  • Mel Gibson reportedly turned down the role given to O’Neill. Good. While John Candy would have been perfect, Gibson would have been just the opposite. Sorry, Mel, I enjoy most of your work, but you would have overplayed the heck out of this role.
  • O’Neill and Embry are both left-handed.
  • Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “If you pause it just right when Dutch is going through his wallet in the motel room, you can get a clear shot of his drivers license showing his address and name, which reads “David Dooley.” Which means “Dutch” must be a nickname. There’s never an actual mention of “David” in the film.”

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