The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1994, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Thursday, September 1, 1994            TAG: 9409020847
TYPE: Movie review
                                             LENGTH: Medium:   84 lines


``BORROWED SADDLES'' might be the more appropriate title for the rather stale Western parody that, sadly, is the last film to be made by the gentle giant John Candy. These jokes, like the sagebrush, have been around.

The basic comedic idea of ``Wagons East!'' is a promising one. A group of settlers in the frontier town of Prosperity decide they prefer the comforts of the East. They'd like to sing a chorus of the song, ``Buttons and Bows'' - ``East is East and West is West, and the wrong one I have chose.''

Candy is cast as the drunken wagonmaster who can hardly tell whether the sun is up, much less where it might set. He proclaims that the wagon train will leave at dawn. Giving it a second thought, he amends the decision to ``noonish.'' Now, that's a sensible guy!

There is a bit of the sweet obnoxiousness that was Candy's persona but, for mostly, he has little to do other than periodically shout ``Wagons, Ho!'' and ride a horse, which looks none too easy for him. The film takes on a poignant quality because Candy, at age 43, suffered a fatal heart attack on March 4 while filming its last scenes. He is noticeably missing from the finale - a confrontation in which the U.S. Cavalry attacks the wagon train to halt settlers from rushing back East.

The trouble with ``Wagons East!'' is that it can't decide if it wants to try the raucous, vulgar, over-the-top humor of Mel Brooks' ``Blazing Saddles'' or the gentle buffoonery of ``Cat Ballou.'' As a result, it gets a PG-13 rating; it probably won't be naughty enough to please the ``Saddles'' rowdies, but it's still bound to get complaints from parents.

Ellen Greene is the traditional prostitute with a heart of gold, looking as if she might break into a chorus of ``Suddenly, Seymour'' from ``Little Shop of Horrors'' at any moment. Richard Lewis, in an effort that will not help him escape from television, plays a neurotic ex-doctor who insists upon conducting group therapy sessions along the trail. When threatened with a gunfight, he informs the assailant that ``I'm anti-handgun.''

John C. McGinley plays a prissy bookseller who is sick of having his first-edition Jane Austen books used as toilet paper by cowpokes. When he's insulted by a gunman, he mutters, ``Oh, please. That's so Dodge City.'' The stereotypical gay cliches amount to tasteless ridicule. The Indians fare no better, even though Russell Means, a leader in Indian causes, has one of the roles.

Ed Lauter is cast as the villain, dressed all in black to look like Lee Marvin in ``Cat Ballou'' but acting more like Wile E. Coyote. He's buried under a landslide which, given the situation, is a good place to hide.

Robin McKee is a mail-order bride who, upon arrival, learns that her contract is split by five moronic brothers. There are lots of tasteless bits about cowboys chasing cows, and such - even a parody of the famous campfire scene from ``Blazing Saddles.''

The stunning Mexican scenery is gorgeous, but only works against the comedic mood. Michael Small's rousing Western score, too, is out of place (although it would be fine in a REAL Western).

I'll remember Candy for ``Planes, Trains and Automobiles'' (his best performance) and for the under-rated ``Only the Lonely,'' but not for this. His fans, though, can be cheered by there being one more chance for his finale not to be this lackluster. ``Canadian Bacon,'' a film he finished before this, has not yet been released - and has some promise. ILLUSTRATION: Photo


Richard Lewis, left, and John Candy head back to the comforts of the

East in ``Wagons East!'' The film was one of Candy's last.



``Wagons East!''

Cast: John Candy, Richard Lewis, Ellen Greene, John C. McGinley,

Ed Lauter, Robert Picardo,

Director: Peter Markle

Screenplay: Matthew Carlson

MPAA rating: PG-13 (scatological humor)

Mal's rating: One 1/2 stars

Locations: Movies 10 in Chesapeake; Circle 6 and Main Gate in

Norfolk; Lynnhaven Mall, Pembroke, Surf-N-Sand and Kemps River in

Virginia Beach

by CNB