The Great Outdoors

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Chicagoan Chester “Chet” Ripley (Candy), his wife, Connie (Faracy), and their two sons, Buckley “Buck” (Young) and Ben (Giatti), are on vacation at a lake resort in Pechoggin, Wisconsin during the summer. All is going as planned until Connie’s sister, Kate (Bening), Kate’s investment broker husband, Roman Craig (Aykroyd), and their twin daughters, Mara and Cara (Rebecca and Hilary Gordon), crash the vacation.

Ghost stories at the family BBQ include one of a man-eating grizzly bear that Chet met face-to-face when he was younger. Chet says that while he and Connie were honeymooning at the same lake, he was attacked by a giant grizzly bear. When Chet fired at it with a shotgun, the buckshot shaved the hair off the top of the bear’s head and from that day on, it was known as the ‘Bald-Headed Bear’ of Claire County.

After Roman pulls Chet around the lake on an impromptu water ski ride with his rented speedboat, tensions between families erupt. Chet is ready to pack up and go home, even as teenager Buck tries to romance local girl, Cammie (Deakins). The budding romance goes well until Chet is challenged to eat the Old 96’er (a 96-ounce steak) at a family dinner which causes Buck to break the date. Buck tries to apologize to Cammie for being late, but Cammie refuses to speak to him.

Connie and Kate bond at a local bar when the conversation drifts to Kate’s challenges of being wealthy. Later, just at the peak of tension between families, it emerges that Roman has made a bad investment and is broke. He has not told Kate and was planning to hit up Chet for the cash.

Later, during a thunderstorm, the twins wander off and fall into a mine shaft. Chet and Roman eventually find them, but the claustrophobic Roman is reluctant to descend into the tiny mine shaft. After some encouragement from Chet, Roman summons up all his courage, while Chet goes in search of a rope to pull them out. Upon realizing that the mine is stocked with old dynamite, Roman takes his daughters and climbs out of the shaft on his own.

When Chet returns with the rope, he is horrified to discover the ‘Bald-Headed Bear’, lurking in the mine. It chases him back to his house, smashes through the door, and rampages through the house. Wally (Prosky), the cabin owner, bursts into the house with a loaded shotgun. Chet takes the gun and shoots the bear’s rear end, blowing off the fur and leaving the bear’s bottom exposed. Roaring in embarrassment, the bear runs out of the house.

The next morning, the two families part on good terms. Unbeknownst to Chet, Connie has invited Roman’s family to stay with them until they can get back on his feet. Cammie and Buck make up and end their summer romance, as Buck and his family head back to Chicago.


Well, if the 80s knew about anything, it was buddy movies and family vacations. The Great Outdoors takes these two popular elements, merges them together, and then lets John Candy and Dan Aykroyd so their thing, along with some mischievous raccoons. Is the final product a piece of entertainment or schlock?

What is this about?

Chet Ripley takes his family to a lakeside resort for a quiet vacation away from it all. When his brother-in-law Roman shows up with his family, Mother Nature steps in to add her two cents.

What did I like?

Raccoons. Maybe the funniest part of this movie is the raccoons. They bring in the kind of funny one expects to see when you hit play on this film. The self-effacing humor and insulting the humans had me cracking up. Had Dr. Dolittle done this kind of stuff, perhaps I would have liked it even better than I did. As it were, though, the raccoons were nothing more than some comic relief. Yes, comic relief in a comedy! What sense does that make?!?

Two peas in a pod. When you name of the 80s funniest guys, two names that pop up near the top of the list are John Candy and Dan Aykroyd. The guys have a great rapport with each other, which helps the film move along at the pace it should, even if their relationship is never really explained, unless I missed it.

Children are our future. In films about families, such as this, the focus is usually on the bumbling father. As you can imagine, no difference here, but the kids actually do get something to do besides show up, say a few lines in the beginning and end, and appear at the dinner scenes. These kids actually have a life. For instance, one of them meets a girl, the twins get into mischief, etc. Much better than just having some kids on the payroll, as most film of this ilk tend to have.

What didn’t I like?

Twins. There is a superstition amongst people which seems to be getting more and more popular that gingers have no soul. I love redheads, and can vouch for the fact that they do indeed have souls rather than lifeless, automaton bodies. However, the twins in the film gave me cause to pause. These girls were slightly less creepy than the twins from The Shining. Thing is, they don’t really do anything that is inherently creepy, other than just exist, which just makes it worse!

Formulaic. I briefly touched on the fact that this film follows the formula that was standard faire in the 80s. Thing is, with the exception of the little girls getting lost down in the well and the bear attack, which is a prerequisite if you in the woods in a movie, you can just about guess everything that happens or at least see it coming.

So much for Vacation. The National Lampoon Vacation franchise would have been the perfect place for this film to shine. Can’t you just see it? National Lampoon’s Wilderness Vacation?!? Unfortunately, we didn’t get that. Instead we are stuck with a subpar film that is trying to capitalize on that franchise’s popularity, but with much less success. My thing is, if you’re going to imitate something, that’s fine, but don’t just blatantly rip it off! I felt this film was doing that, unfortunately.

Please excuse the jumbled thoughts (more than normal) in this review. I’m just getting back from my weekend trip and while watching, I’m also answering e-mails, catching people up to personal matters, and getting ready for work tomorrow. So, let’s get right to final thoughts on The Great Outdoors. Someone posted in a review that Dan Aykroyd’s dance in the credits to “Land of 1,000 Dances” might be his shining moment. The fact that a post-credits scene shows the life of a character is never a good sign…unless its a Marvel stinger HA! Seriously, though, this film has moments interspersed here and there, but nothing memorable. Do I recommend this? Eh, it is one of those pictures you feel you should at least check out once, if for not other reason than to say that you saw it. Otherwise, this is just a forgettable film from the 80s that exists solely for nostalgia reasons nowadays. Your choice whether to watch or not.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars


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