Gad! When you imagine the comic possibilities of a film that places the outrageously talented John Candy in a catastrophe-laden Day at the Beach scenario (the likes of which have been popular since the early days of silent comedy) and the end result is Summer Rental – well, you can be forgiven for being plenty ticked off. Not that Summer Rental is that bad a movie. It’s not reprehensible, really, just disappointing in its tameness.
Candy plays an Atlanta man who lugs his family off for a beachside holiday, and the whole thing seems more inspired by National Lampoon’s Vacation than by anyone’s imaginative rendering of amusing real-life experiences. Tacked on to Candy’s fumbling escapades is a stupidly conceived plot wherein Candy takes revenge on an arrogant yachtsman (Richard Crenna) in a climactic race, with the help of a crotchety sea salt (Rip Torn). It is, by conservative estimate, the 527th film since the released of Rocky that ends in a sporting event with the protagonist victorious – enough already!
It’s also time to note that, after having had ample opportunity to prove himself as a director, Carl Reiner might gently but firmly be counseled to assume a producer’s role instead. Reiner’s string of comedies with Steve Martin got increasingly better (and funnier) but the blandness of Summer Rental suggests that the success may have had more to do with Martin’s own sharpening comic instincts than Reiner’s growth as an auteur. Gags here are allowed to slip away too lazily, and the lurch into the yacht race plot is quite jarring. There’s also a weirdly underdeveloped subplot with Candy’s wife and the marvelous John Larroquette (from Choose Me and Night Court) that hints at possible adultery but must’ve ended up on a cutting-room floor somewhere.
But Reiner’s greatest problem is his failure to bring out all that is Candy. The casting itself – as the harassed, short-fuse father – is fine, since it ought to afford Candy many opportunities for meanness and spite. But the happy ending, and the movement toward it, impose a conventional tone to the film, and Candy is required to espouse ordinary sentiments. Candy can do that – he was certainly good in the more tender moments in Splash – but he’s at his glorious best when nettled, obsequious, sleazy, or just plain rotten. Summer Rental might have been a lot better if it had been a little nastier.
First published in The Informer, September 1985
Big champion of John Candy back then, for good reason – anything he did on film would have to be measured by the standard of SCTV, which is why almost all of his film work fell short. Maybe I was a little hard on Reiner here, but the film really is inexplicably bad.