The Russell family have moved away from Indianapolis for dad Robert (Garrett M. Brown) to work elsewhere, and the eldest child Tia (Jean Louisa Kelly) is simmering with resentment over the whole arrangement. Then one night they receive a telephone call from the aunt of mother Cindy (Elaine Bromka) to say that her father has had a heart attack, and she really has to head back to be at his bedside, but the problem is the kids - who can they find to look after them for a week? How about Robert's brother, Buck (John Candy)? He's looking for an excuse not to start working for his girlfriend Chanice (Amy Madigan) anyway...
No, that's not the best reason for looking after your nieces and nephew, but the Russells have no choice and Uncle Buck moves in, though as this was a film written and directed by John Hughes, we can tell he's going to learn a few life lessons and become a reformed character by the end. This one is often overshadowed by Hughes' more obvious teen movies such as Pretty in Pink or The Breakfast Club, but nevertheless has a coterie of fans who not only appreciate the director's way with a character and a comic situation, but also liked to see John Candy get a chance in the limelight after many of his roles being of the supporting variety to that time.
Candy does very well with the Hughes writing, you could almost believe that the part was written for him, and it's certainly one of his better performances, but that doesn't necessarily make it a great film. The belly laughs never arrive, yet neither does it appear as if they were really being aimed for, as much of the humour is personality based, and the dramatic aspects are more emphasised as if Hughes was trying to find middle ground between his earlier comedies and his later, more consistently emotionally serious efforts which he brought out nearer the close of the eighties. Much of this is centered around Buck and his relationship with Tia, who sports a permanent pissed off expression for just about the entirety.
We are supposed to forgive Tia for her meanspirited behaviour as we are Buck for his slobbishness, her because we understand that she has left all her friends behind in Indianapolis, and he because we recognise he has a heart of gold, or something similar. But this being a Hughes movie, he cannot prevent a cruel streak from making itself plain, which is appropriate for the drama, but harder to take in the humorous scenes. Not all the jokes are of the painful variety, as there are plenty of bits with Candy microwaving the washing or taking in the cat only to be told they don't have a cat, but that propensity for gags which give one pause and take you out of the more genial stretches is hard to ignore.
Buck and Tia have a lot to teach one another, of course, and it's all very predictable, so Buck realises that it's time he shaped up and settled down with Chanice, got a job and stopped relying on the racetrack for his funds, and Tia thaws that frosty exterior although she has been so relentlessly nasty throughout that you're half thinking it's all an act she's putting on when she finally brightens up: maybe a mark of an effective performance, there. This has its share of cutesy moments, mostly concentrated on youngest kids Gaby Hoffmann and Macaulay Culkin and how they get on famously with their uncle, yet the fact that he finally sees eye to eye with Tia by committing an act of violent crime is a strange way to pull at the heartstrings. If too much of this shows the machinery it is employing to bring the characters from point A to point B, then we still have Candy to appreciate. Music by Ira Newborn.