I miss John Candy. It’s hard to believe it’s been 18 years since we lost this comedy giant. When I think about his career, there are just so many hilarious movie moments that stand out. “Uncle Buck,” “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” “Vacation,” “The Blues Brothers,” and if you’ve never seen his work on SCTV you’re committing a crime against your funny bone. Today’s film may not stand out as one of Candy’s most memorable moments, but it is one that deserves another look. Directed by another comedy legend, Carl Reiner, it’s 1985’s “Summer Rental.”
Candy stars as Jack Chester, an Atlanta air traffic controller who is overworked and stressed out. Noticing Jack’s mental state, his boss forces him to take five weeks vacation. Jack’s wife Sandy (Karen Austin) is excited to take a vacation, as are teenage daughter Jennifer (Kerri Green…my Goonies crush), son Bobby (Joey Lawrence), and young daughter Laurie (Aubrey Jean). Jack, on the other hand, is not as thrilled, but he still packs up the family and heads for a rental house in Florida.
The house the family is staying in is beautiful. At least it is until they realize they have come to the wrong house. The real home they are staying in is a bit run-down and right next to the walkway to the public beach. And then there are the neighbors. On one side, a guy who runs his power saw all day and on the other a house full of lifeguards who all have eyes for Jennifer.
Still, Jack tries to relax, but when he falls asleep on the beach he ends up with terrible sunburn. Things don’t get better when the family has a run-in at a local lobster restaurant with local boating champion Al Pellet (Richard Crenna). The family ends up storming out of the restaurant and heading to a joint called The Barnacle, run by a crusty pirate impersonator called Scully (Rip Torn).
Jack continues to struggle to relax but keeps failing. It gets worse when he injures his knee while trying to teach his son how to sail. Of course, the injury comes when he plows the boat he’s borrowed from Scully into Pellet’s ship. Now, Jack is stuck at home in a cast while his family continues to go out and have fun. They end up doing a lot of activities with a single father (John Larroquette) and his teenage son. But, before long, Jack begins to sneak out during the day so that Scully can teach him to sail properly.
The vacation, though, soon ends up being in danger of an abrupt end when Pellet becomes the new owner of the house and orders the family out. This causes Jack to hatch a plan, betting Pellet that he can beat him in the upcoming regatta. Now Jack, Scully, and the whole family team up to fix up the prop pirate ship that sits outside The Barnacle and beat the uber-jerk Pellet.
“Summer Rental” certainly has it’s share of amusing moments, but it’s not what I’d call laugh-out-loud funny. It’s not Uncle Buck goes to Florida. But it is a sweet, harmless little comedy that I suppose I identify with a bit more now that I’m a father myself and know the challenges of taking the family on vacation. I’m sure this film was produced somewhat because of the success of “Vacation” two years before. But this film is much more family friendly than the first Griswold adventure was. The harsh language is at a minimum and it’s got that whole super-sweet ending where the family teams up against the rich jerk. The only more adult element is the neighbor’s wife who is always asking everyone for their opinion of her new implants. But she’s always photographed from behind as she flashes people…you probably see worse on Saturday morning basic cable these days.
Though it’s not Candy’s funniest film, his strong sense of comic timing is on full display here. Karen Austin is essentially a clone of Beverly D’Angelo in the Vacation films. Am I the only one who wonders how the likes of John Candy and Chevy Chase end up with these head-cheerleader types in these movies? I digress. Rip Torn is also fun as the theme restaurant pirate who never turns off the pirate act. But, of course, my favorite member of the cast will always be Kerri Green. This movie came out the same summer as “The Goonies,” so I was crushing on her big time in 85.
“Summer Rental” isn’t as hilarious or outrageous as a vacation with the Griswolds is. However, it is funny, and a bit sweet. In other words, good clean family fun.