Movie review: ‘Dutch’

dutchWithout 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 are a bunch of problems with “Dutch,” which stars Ed O’Neill, but it actually is watchable and has a Hughes-type message and ending. I know there are worse films that are better critically received and did better at the box office. However, put aside any criticism you might have since you won’t 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 again updated the review with some new links and trivia on March 4, 2017.)

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

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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 a nasty Thanksgiving holiday.

Since the father is ditching the boy and leaving him at prep school, O’Neill volunteers to go get him as 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. It’s difficult to separate O’Neill’s work here from the TV role (something you didn’t do when you first saw him in today’s miserable “Modern Family”) because you expect him to start shouting at “Peg” at any moment. Still, he puts out an endearing turn and gives his all to the role. He’s best at his down moments, especially when the hookers ditch them at a gas station. O’Neill has also been in the youth football film “Little Giants” (much better in that one — click here for my review) and “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane” (much worse in that stink bomb with Andrew Dice Clay — click here for my review).

Ethan Embry plays the boy, “Doyle Standish,” and was billed then as Ethan Randall (his real name) in the credits. He later become Embry and you’ll remember him as “T.B. Player” in “That Thing You Do!” (the bass player, get it? — click here for my review) or in “Vegas Vacation,” “Can’t Hardly Wait” or “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.”

Embry is good, even in the scenes that have to be pretty much affected to show his snobbishness. He does a great job in evolving the character and the most poignant scene of the film is 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.

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 characters in the execrable “Dirty Work” with Norm MacDonald (click here for my review) and even better as “Shooter McGavin” in the golf movie “Happy Gilmore” with Adam Sandler (click here for my review).

I would like to have seen a bit more of 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.

The film wraps up when O’Neill and Embry get home courtesy of the family they met at the shelter. The film worked hard (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.

Dutch” made only $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:

Other cast notes (via IMDb.com):

  • The two hookers/dancers who give the boys a ride are Ari Meyers as “Brock” and Elizabeth Daily as “Hailey” (she’s billed as E.G. Daily in the credits). Meyers’ most recognizable role was a daughter in TV’s “Kate & Allie” while Daily has been in “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.”
  • 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”.”

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