John Candy’s directorial debut, a bizarre action comedy about an embattled husband (George Wendt) fighting for his sanity, is unexpectedly brushed with an onscreen midlife melancholy that echoes the loss of Candy while underscoring his aborted promise as a director.
The production is cast in double sorrow because of another death, that near the end of production late last year of co-writer Kari Hildebrand, to whom the telepic is dedicated in the end credits.
Candy, who materializes in a brief cameo as a Russian thug, stars in two theatrical movies awaiting release (“Canadian Bacon” and “Wagons East”), but “Hostage for a Day” will likely go down as the most revealing among his final pictures.
For one thing, as director, Candy surrounded himself with several fellow Second City alumni (including Wendt, Robin Duke, Don Lake and co-writer Peter Torokvei), and the result is a larky homage to Candy’s “SCTV” salad days.
The telepic’s other welcome surprise is Wendt’s endearing character, who’s tinged with a sad, dreamy nature that’s a subtle counterpoint to the gathering chaos and enemies around him — including a wife (the hilarious Duke) who’s a harridan from domestic hell, consumed by money and home renovations, and an intimidating father-in-law (John Vernon) under whom he slaves in a menial job in a print shop.
It’s as if Wendt has come off his bar stool as Norm in “Cheers” and gone home to the life we could easily imagine for him.
The movie’s opening, when a battalion of home-improvement types invade the sterile serenity of our reluctant hero’s gated community on the morning of his birthday, is a ripe slash of satire.
When Wendt’s bewildered character looks out his bedroom window, to the accompanying melody of “Money, Money, Money,” and sees his voracious wife in the arms of the cocky home-improvement foreman, the tone is set for the suburban nightmare to follow.
Ricocheting events lurch the movie perilously over the top. Events in the final stretches are exhausting, as the writers (Robert Crane, Hildebrand and Torokvei) run out of gas with SWAT-team antics that are derivative of tired old “Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight” scenarios. But Lake’s dim bumbling as the police lieutenant is an enjoyable, inane touch.
Of course, a story like this wouldn’t be complete without a fairy tale ending , nicely represented by disabled actress Christopher Templeton as a childhood sweetheart who lovingly comes back into our desperate hero’s life.