Wagons East (1994) – A Review
It’s the rough wild west and a group of soft, yellow-bellied misfits just can’t hack it. Richard Lewis, Robert Picardo, Ellen Greene and John C. McGinley are ready to pack up and leave the dusty west behind. They hire drunken wagon master John Candy to lead their wagon train back to the comfortable, civilized east.
It will be even rougher travels than they thought when a rail master gets wind of this exodus and worries it won’t be good publicity when the news hits folks are bailing out on the ‘go west’ idea. He hires a gunslinger (Ed Lauter) to stop them any way he can.
Comedic exploits ensue as this wagon train gets lost, encounters Indians, try to soldier on with this hired gun trying to stop them, along with their own inept leader looking like he’s not the most reliable guide around – it’s going to be a very long journey
And unfortunately, with all that build up Wagons East is a very poor film. Even without that build up it still stinks. You could say, ‘Oh it’s a dumb, goofy comedy’ and you would still be too kind to it. It’s really pretty awful and very unfunny.
Wagons East came and went in theaters. It didn’t make even a ripple and was universally ignored. It did get some press because of the fact that Candy died on set, but other than that sad piece of trivia there is nothing else in the film really worth talking about.
I was prepared for the worst watching this, so I was really keeping my eyes peeled to find at least one good joke or gag in this. And I couldn’t. The best I could come up with is there is one gag where Candy gets hit in the nuts and flies back into a wagon. The stuntman flying back into the wagon did an impressive job with gag. They really must of yanked him hard to make him fly back into that wagon hard. So, I think that’s the sole highlight I could find – Candy getting hit in the balls. Well, it was really more of the stuntman flying back through the air part I thought was decent. I can’t really say I thought it was funny though.
That’s the type of humor that fills this movie up. Folks falling over, jokes about a flamboyant gay guy and prostitutes, rocks crushing people. And I think there was a fart joke in here as well.
It’s an extremely uninspired comedy. Nothing connects. They don’t come up with any unique gags or situations for this wagon train to run into. It just kind of moseys along without any laughs to be seen. There’s a lot of funny talented people in this, but it all amounts to a shockingly forgettable and awkward comedy.
Candy is not funny at all in this. It’s like he didn’t know what kind of character he was meant to play so his wagon train master just becomes such a very forgettable character that when he disappears from the film for awhile he’s not even missed.
It’s very strange. Candy could be such a presence in comedies, even when they weren’t very good. He was too talented to be playing this type of drunk idiot character who falls down a lot. He could do so much more than what this role asked him to do. Him with his beard, cowboy hat and trench coat fades into the background so much here that it barely feels he’s present at all, let alone the star of this flick!
I had read once before filming commenced Candy had hoped to get out of this movie. He had already signed on, but knew it was going to be bad, that it would be a huge mistake he would regret and was looking for a way to get out of it. He was hoping to be able to pull out of this movie somehow.
However, just prior in 1993 Kim Basinger found herself with big legal headaches by backing out of the lead role in Boxing Helena. Lawsuits were filed against her and it resulted with Basinger having to pay millions and eventually she filed for bankruptcy. The story I had read was that rather than Candy risking such a protracted nightmare he resigned himself that it would just be easier to do Wagons East, get it over with and move on.
Now, I’m not sure how true that is, but watching him in Wagons East it does kind of look like he’s simply going through the motions and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was more focused on just getting it done than actually trying to work to make any of it better. He might have been just as bored as audiences who saw it. I certainly was.
Being so bored while watching this I started looking for odd edits that took place after Candy’s death. He apparently died with only six days left of filming to go, so I figured they might have had to get creative to finish out some of his unfinished scenes after he died.
I only noticed one I think. During a gag where it snows overnight, Lewis and Piccardo are asking where Candy is and we see him walking away in the distance only seeing his back. I suspected it was a Shemp stand-in that was used since we never see Candy’s face during that scene. I can’t confirm this though, it’s only my suspicion.
The filmmakers had said Candy had filmed all his key scenes before he died, but it feels like there’s an extended gap where he’s offscreen for an awfully long time. Too long for the star of a movie to disappear. Whether the story was designed that way or whether it was due to his unexpected death, it is awkward.
John C. McGinley (who can be quite funny) plays a gay bookseller and he has all the stereotypical traits that would illicit complaints if it showed up in a movie today. None of it is funny. We’re supposed to think it’s a real hoot this flamboyant gay guy is acting tough, shoots guns and gets in a duel with Lauter. Yeah, what a knee slapper.
Richard Lewis just comes off completely out of place throughout the whole thing. I was never surprised he never did many movies. He just never seemed to fit in them and he essentially he always played himself. His persona is much better suited to his stand-up and doing tv roles. He’s very good at playing himself on Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Greene and Picardo just coast along with zero to do, other than lend themselves to this patched together ensemble. The most exuberant performance in this is really McGinley.
It’s not just Candy, but everyone seems to be on auto-pilot and not even trying to sell or make any of the stupid jokes work. There’s no passion, lines are delivered very flat. I wouldn’t be surprised if EVERYONE arrived on the set, weren’t excited about doing this movie, didn’t want to exert any effort into this and tried to get their scenes done as quickly as possible so they could move onto another more meaningful production and use of their time. That’s how it all comes off. Maybe they were all in Candy’s reluctant boat of signing onto this dud and regretting it.
It’s a shame Wagons East was Candy’s final film he worked on. Luckily for him his legacy is remembered for much better work and movies he did, rather than this dreck.
So, yeah. There’s nothing here. Skip it. Candy probably wouldn’t even blame you.
Here’s the trailer. It shows the bit with Candy’s stuntman flying back into the wagon….and now seeing it again….it’s really not that good. So, maybe it isn’t much of an entertaining moment. I guess I was trying so hard to find something good in this I desperately latched onto it. Forget it, there are zero highlights in this flick.
Apparently, I missed this reused shot of Candy that was used in the film. It’s obvious when you see them together. It appears they had to rethink some scenes after Candy died to tie things together in the film.