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Film / Uncle Buck

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Who knew John Candy could be so terrifying?

"How would you like to spend the next several nights wondering if your crazy, out-of-work, bum uncle will shave your head while you sleep?"

What do you get when you have a family emergency, and the only person available to watch the kids is John Candy? You get Uncle Buck.

The title character of this John Hughes picture, released on August 16th, 1989, is Buck Russell, a fun-loving, unemployed slob with Commitment Issues. When his sister-in-law's father has a heart attack, he is called on to watch his brother's children, including teenage Deadpan Snarker Tia. Hilarity Ensues.

Much of said hilarity comes from Buck's repeated encounters with Tia's boyfriend, Bug. Buck knows Bug is just using her, and pretends to be Ax-Crazy for Bug's benefit. Tia decides that This Means War! When not trying to save Tia from herself, Buck cooks giant pancakes, punches out drunken clowns, and tries to come to terms with working for his girlfriend Chanice. All this builds to a Crowning Moment Of Heartwarming in which Buck must choose between freedom and responsibility. Macaulay Culkin's performance as Tia's little brother will remind many viewers of Home Alone, and for good reason: it inspired the movie.

Spawned a sequel TV sitcom that premiered in September 1990 on CBS, starring Kevin Meaney as Buck, who becomes guardian of the three children after their parents are killed in a car accident. Panned by critics, it didn't even finish its first season before being cancelled, after airing only 16 of 22 filmed episodes. A second TV sitcom premiered in 2016 on ABC, this time with an all-black cast in an attempt to ride the coattails of black•ish. This version was also panned by critics and only lasted 8 episodes.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Pal hits on Tia at the bowling alley. He's such a loser that he shows up with a black eye and a cut lip. He thinks a good compliment is to tell Tia she looks firm.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Miles and Maizy, who take to Buck much more quickly than their older sister, find no end of amusement in him actually being able to talk back to her.
  • The Alleged Car: Buck's jalopy (he calls it "The Beast"), which backfires like clockwork. It becomes a Cool Car when we see what's in the trunk.
  • Amusing Injuries: Golf balls to the head, courtesy of Buck's Improbable Aiming Skills.
  • Annoying Laugh: Bug's lets out an incredibly irritating one when he first insults Buck. Buck mocks his laugh while threating him.
  • Aside Glance: Upon seeing the massive pancakes Buck made for his birthday (and hearing about the toast that Buck "couldn't get through the door"), Miles gives the camera a smile of bewilderment.
  • Attempted Rape: Buck turned out to be right in his assessment of Bug, when he catches him doing this. To a girl that wasn't Tia.
  • Ax-Crazy: Buck plays this to the hilt for Bug's benefit.
    Bug: Ever heard of a tune-up? Beh-hee-hee-hee-hee!
    Buck: Beh-hee-hee-hee-hee! Ever heard of a ritual killing? Beh-hee-hee-hee-hee!
    Bug: [smirk fades] ...I don't get it.
    Buck: Gnaw on her face like that in public again, and you'll be one. (Beat) Beh-hee-hee-hee-hee!
  • Badass Longcoat: Buck's tweed overcoat, perfect for crashing house parties and other wacky deeds.
  • Bait-and-Switch:
    • As part of his Establishing Character Moment, when Chanice starts expressing her doubts that Buck (for once) will actually show up at her auto-shop the next morning, Buck tells her honestly that if he could even think of an excuse that she would believe... he would use it.
    • Buck drops an expensive plate. Obviously it'll shatter into a million pieces, right? Wrong. It stays in one piece until Buck mumbles "Unbreakable, huh?" and whacks it against the piano.
  • Bedmate Reveal: When Buck bursts in on Bug at the house party, he sees the girl Bug is trying to Date Rape is not Tia. He goes ahead with his plan anyway.
  • Berserk Button: Threatening any of the kids in his care will bring out his Papa Wolf side, which could lead to a "Reason You Suck" Speech, a punch to the face, or worse.
  • Beware the Nice Ones / Beware the Silly Ones: Buck appears at first to be a fat, friendly goof; but mess with his nieces and nephew and you better start quivering...
  • Big Fun: Most of the time, Buck fits this trope well, as a seedy but fun-loving guy who's (mostly) good with kids. However, as some of these other tropes show, he is not to be trifled with and can turn menacing when he feels he needs to.
  • Black Sheep: Buck recognizes that he's a habitual loser whose been cut out of his family and is working hard at losing his girlfriend, the only good thing he really has going for him. He's a drunk, he's a gambler, he's a one-time playboy... and he's got nothing to show for any of it. Getting to take care of his nieces and nephew really lets him turn things around.
  • Bookends: At the beginning of the film, Maisy grouses at Tia for swearing, and at the tail end of the film before he's about to leave the Russel house, Buck accidentally sends tons of hanging cookware tumbling to the floor, at which point he cries "Shit!"
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Tia Russell. She hates that the family moved to the suburbs and cost her her friends and is acting out in all the teen girl ways. She's partying, Dating What Daddy Hates, and throwing hard snark at her parents.
  • Bumbling Dad: The children's father isn't really in the film enough to qualify either way, but Buck fulfills this trope to a T (for "Trope").
  • Character Title: The protagonist of the film is Buck Russell, the uncle of the kids in the movie.
  • Cheshire Cat Grin: Buck wears one when menacing Bug. So creepy, it borders on a Slasher Smile.
  • Cool Uncle: The basic premise.
  • Commitment Issues: Buck has this in regards to his girlfriend.
  • Constantly Curious: Miles; see Elephant's Child, below.
  • Cordon Bleugh Chef: Don't eat Buck's breakfast. Although it's never actually stated that it's bad... Tia turns it down because she's being a bitch, and Miles seems shocked to see something different (an appropriately kidlike reaction). The sole mentioned aspect of it is that he put onions in the scrambled eggs (which isn't overly gross, but most kids would certainly be put off by it). Take a look at the toaster while he's washing dishes and talking on the phone with Chanice; he ruined some toast.
  • Covers Always Lie: The film poster (as seen on the page image) depicts Buck coming for a visit with the family trying to keep him out, when in fact, it was the family that called him over to watch the kids.
  • Curse Cut Short: Buck leaves a lengthy message on Chanice's answering machine describing their private nicknames for her breasts, and her buttocks, and then...
    "Felix was what we called your—" *Smash Cut to a yowling cat*
  • Date Rape Averted: Skirting a fine line between rape and seduction, but she clearly tells him to stop and he flat-out ignores her.
    • Suggested to not be the case for Tia. The film never comes right out and says it, but it's heavily implied that Bug did the same thing to her and then tossed her aside like so much garbage. Alternatively, given she brushes off his advances earlier, he broke up with her because she wouldn't have sex with him.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Tia has made this her hobby. Buck comes a close second.
  • Death Glare: Uncle Buck gives this to the Assistant Principal when she starts bad-mouthing Maizy as a "bad egg, twiddler, dreamer and silly-heart".
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Tia at the end.
  • Door Handle Scare: Buck finds out his niece has snuck out to a party and goes after her. We see her boyfriend making out with someone in a room when the door handle jiggles. But the door is locked and the two continue. Then a power drill comes through the handle and the door opens to reveal Buck. But the girl is not the niece.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Tia lies to Chanice about how Uncle Buck is cheating on her with another woman, just so she can spite him for the petty crime of embarrassing her at school and chasing away Bug for her own well-being. Partly justified, as Tia's just a teenager and has a self-centered worldview where her only concern is what little social life she has at her new school.
  • Elephant's Child: Miles indulges in a motormouth spree of questions about Buck the instant he arrives, culminating in Buck asking him what his record is for consecutive questions asked; Miles replies thirty-eight.
  • Emotionless Girl: Tia presents herself at this, and talks to everyone in an overly aloof tone, but isn't above being overly petty with her younger siblings, mouthing off at her mother and Buck, and clearly being frustrated at leaving her life in Indianapolis behind. Despite this, it's still daunting to see her break down when Buck finds her late in the film.
  • Everybody Has Standards: Bug may not have been attempting rape on Tia at the time, but Buck still goes ahead with making Bug pay for his lechery. Because (A) this implies Bug is cheating on Tia, and (B) no girl deserves to be in this situation.
    • Chanice has lost all patience with Buck by the climax of the movie and doesn't want anything to do with him ever again—but when he calls and begs her to watch Miles and Maizy so he can go find Tia, she can't bring herself to say no, because there are young children involved and she's the only one who can help.
  • Exploding Closet: Variant: Just opening the door doesn't do it, but when Buck reaches for something inside the closet the typical avalanche ensues.
  • Family Portrait of Characterization: The title character is the Black Sheep of his family, who only reluctantly call him to cover in an emergency. He's mostly a goofy Manchild, but has a moment of quiet sadness when he sees that he's been removed from his brother's wedding photo.
  • Freeze-Frame Ending: The film ends on a freeze-frame of Buck smiling and waving goodbye to his niece, Tia. This is actually the second (and sadly, the last) John Hughes-directed film to end on a freeze-frame of John Candy, after Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
  • Freudian Slippery Slope: It's really hard to talk to that vice principal without mentioning her... Well...
    "I'm Buck Melanoma, Moley Russel's Wart... (realizes what he said) Not her wart, not her wart. I-I'm the wart. She's my tumor. My growth. My, uh, pimple. I'm her "Uncle Wart", just old Buck Wart Russel..."
  • Freudian Threat: While not explicitly mentioned, Tia menacing a helpless Bug with a power drill can be this for viewers who picked up on the implied Date Rape plot point.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Buck's the foolish to Bob's responsible.
  • Foreign Remake: In 1991, Uncle Buck would recieve a Malayalam-language remake titled Uncle Bun.
  • From the Mouths of Babes: The kids wouldn't be out of place if they were in an episode of South Park.
  • Gentle Giant: Comes with being played by John Candy. Sure, he's pretty scary if you're a heartless educator or an inebriated party clown or a punk, but just watch the scene where Buck tries to convince Maizy she can't sleep in his bed. D'awwwwww.
  • Giant Food: For Miles' birthday, Buck makes a stack of pancakes which are nearly three feet in diameter for breakfast, and has to use a snow shovel to flip them! He also has about twenty pounds of bratwurst for the breakfast sausage.
    Buck: You should've seen the toast; I couldn't even get it through the door!
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Played with. Buck's cigars make him look almost like he'd be a bad guy, but he's awesome.
  • Groin Attack: Buck threatens Bug with this in a very roundabout way, while showing off his hatchet.
    "Why, I've been known to circumcise a gnat. You're not a gnat, are you, Bug? Bug. Gnat. Is there a similarity there? I think there is!"
  • Hard Head: Bowling balls just bounce right off.
  • Heel Realization: Buck is close to tears when he realizes he can't take a couple of kids to the racetrack, and he has to go after Tia and keep her safe from Bug.
  • Hypocrite Has a Point: Buck, a famed bumbling hedonist that can't even hold a job, recurrently gets read the riot act for feeling he has the right to lecture people over their vices, especially from Tia. Since he's still hardly the only flawed person in the movie however, it's usually an in-universe Don't Shoot the Message.
    Buck: What, did you have a few drinks this morning? Huh? Yeah, I think you did.
    Pooter the Clown: What are you? Mother Cabrini? You never touch the stuff?
    Buck: No, no. It's just that I wouldn't be drinking if I was going to entertain some kids, you know?
  • Ignore the Disability: Buck introducing himself as "Buck Melanoma, Moley Russell's wart." in response to her vice principal's very large mole.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Buck hits a five wood in the dark while wearing an overcoat and with no tee, and still manages to pop Bug in the head from 30 yards away.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: Tia insists Buck's all talk with his long threat to come after Bug with a hatchet if he messes with Tia, only for Buck to reveal he really does keep a hatchet in the trunk of his car.
  • Karma Houdini: Aside from finding out her "boyfriend" was only with her to try and have sex with her and getting dumped for not putting out, Tia gets no real punishment for being so shitty to her family for most of the movie.
  • Kick the Dog: Tia has loads of this under her belt, from mockingly blaming her mother for her grandfather's heart attack to sabotaging Buck's relationship with Chanice.
  • Knight Templar Parent: Buck isn't a parent, but he is highly protective of his brother's children, resorting to death threats and even kidnapping Tia's boyfriend.
  • Malicious Slander: Tia resorts to this, preying on her absent mother's dislike of Buck, as payback for Buck interfering with her social life.
  • Meaningful Name: Bug. He scurries away when the light comes on, and if you saw him on your floor you'd probably step on him.
  • Monster Clown: A mild example; more of a thoroughly soused, foul-mouthed clown. Not that it keeps Buck from kicking his ass.
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Buck is very clearly this (it's a big part of the reason why his sister in law doesn't like him). He smokes, drinks, overeats, hangs out with somewhat scummy characters, and is a bit of a slob. Still, he's a really good guy.
  • Never My Fault: Or "My Dog's Fault" in this case. According to Miles, Mr. Neville's dog sniffed his friend's balls, and Mr. Neville yelled at his friend.
  • Nice Guy: Beneath his crassness and immaturity, Buck is undeniably this, being a fundamentally sweet-natured guy who just wants to connect to his family again.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • "I want to apologize about your bushes. I had no idea that they would all catch on fire like that."
    • "A lot of people hate this hat. It angers a lot of people, just the sight of it. Ah, I'll tell you a story about that on the way to school," but the story was never told to the audience. The hat in question was an ushanka, which is associated with Russia, so it's not hard to see why people didn't like it, as the Soviet Union was still alive at the time of filming. However, the audience was never told why someone like Buck would wear it.
    • It's clear that at one point Buck had a good relationship with his family. It's never revealed what happened to destroy it; given Buck's sister in law is needlessly picky about aspects of Buck's life, it's not necessarily his fault.
  • "Not So Different" Remark:
    • Buck admits he was just like Bug in his youth, and the two have extremely similar names.
    • Later, Buck soberly admits to Tia the reason he still looks out for her is because he's just like her: he realized he needed to get his act together.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Buck is just trying to fix the washing machine, but it didn't look or sound like it to the nosey neighbor, and she mistakes him for a rapist.
    • Played more seriously when Buck's girlfriend walks in on him "dirty" dancing with the same neighbor.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: When Buck picks up Tia after she found out he was right about Bug, he apologizes but pronounces "sorry" the Canadian way, as "sore-ree".
  • Overly-Long Gag: When Miles "questions" Buck when they first meet. This is a portion of the full conversation, which takes up about twenty seconds:
    Miles: Are you married?
    Buck: No.
    Miles: Why not?
    Buck: It's a long story.
    Miles: Do you have any kids?
    Buck: No.
    Miles: Why not?
    Buck: It's an even longer story.
    • A few minutes later, Buck does an extended beat when Tia asks if anyone ever embarrassed him like this. ... ... ... "No."
  • Papa Wolf: Buck is this to all of the kids, but especially Tia.
  • Percussive Maintenance: Buck trying to fix the washing machine by kicking it, all the while swearing a blue streak.
  • Precision F-Strike: When Buck knocks the pots and pans down at the end. SHIT!
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Buck chewing out the assistant principal.
    Asst. Principal: I see a bad egg when I look at your niece. She is a twiddler, a dreamer, a sillyheart! She is a chatterbox, and frankly, I don't think she takes a thing in her life or her career as a student seriously.
    Buck: She's only six.
    Asst. Principal: That is not a valid excuse; I hear that every day and I dismiss it!
    Buck: I don't think I want to know a six-year-old who isn't a dreamer, or a sillyheart. And I sure don't want to know one who takes their student career seriously. I don't have a college degree. I don't even have a job. But I know a good kid when I see one. Because they're all good kids, until dried-out, brain-dead skags like you drag them down and convince them they're no good! You so much as scowl at my niece, or any other kid in this school, and I hear about it, and I'm coming looking for you! Take this quarter, go downtown, and have a rat gnaw that thing off your face! Good day to you, madam.
  • Sad Clown: Buck is outwardly a jovial guy, but there are moments where he's alone that he makes clear he's actually very lonely and sad. He admits as much to Tia at the end.
  • Scylla and Charybdis: Buck gets this after Tia sneaks off to a party. He can either take Miles and Maizy to a rigged horse race that will set him for the upcoming year, or he can forgo the race in order to spare his nephew and niece the potential harm they might witness. Ultimately, he chooses his family.
  • Slasher Smile: Just look at the page image, for God's sake.
  • Sweet and Sour Grapes: When Buck goes to find Tia after she sneaks off to a Wild Teen Party, he calls Chanice and asks her to watch Miles and Maizy. She's already angry at Buck and agrees for the children's sake, but tells him that once Tia is home, they're officially through. Buck sadly agrees—which turns out to be the right move, as it shows Chanice that he truly has changed and thus inspires her (with some help from Tia) to give him another chance.
  • Talk to the Fist: Happens when Buck punches a clown in the face (twice in succession). The clown had it coming, though, for showing up drunk and belligerent when he was supposed to be entertaining at Miles' birthday party.
  • Toilet-Drinking Dog Gag: When Cindy calls to check how things are going, the issue of providing water for the dog comes up. Buck replies that he's been leaving the toilet seats up.
    Buck: Yeah. *Beat* Is that what the blue water is? It's not good for him, huh? That might account for something... *beat* Nothing, just, uh... *clears throat* an odd coloration out on the grass.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Tia, during the final act of the film.
  • Twerp Sweating: Buck is very good at scaring the hell out of Bug.
  • The Un-Reveal: We never do see the toast on Miles' birthday.
  • What Does She See in Him?: Buck asks Tia this after they let Bug go, wondering why on Earth she would be interested in a a-hole like him. Tia's too busy laughing to answer and Buck drops the question.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: How did Uncle Buck make up for the lack of clown at Miles' birthday party after he punched out the drunk one his mom hired?
    • Admittedly, the kids didn't seem too enthused about there being a clown in the first place so they probably didn't mind.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Buck gets two of these in rapid succession towards the end of the film. Tia sneaks off to a party when she's supposed to babysit Miles and Maizy, and Buck needs to get to the racetrack that night (it's heavily implied that he makes what little income he has betting on crooked jockeys). He piles Miles and Maizy into the car and plans to take them with him, but ultimately realizes that he can't bring kids to such a dangerous place, even if it means giving up his one chance for a payday. The second moment comes when he desperately calls Chanice to come watch Miles and Maizy while he goes looking for Tia, even though they've broken up at that point. Chanice reluctantly agrees because there are children involved, but warns Buck that afterwards, their relationship will be over permanently. Buck hastily agrees to this deal, choosing his estranged niece over his own happiness.