Back in 1991, I was a big fan of “Married with Children,” and loved Ed O’Neill. He was raucously funny as the blue collared Al Bundy, whose life was an endless series of misfortunes, so a big screen career seemed only a natural next step. I never caught “Dutch,” however I do fondly remember it as the failed big screen feature of O’Neill’s that became a consistent running joke on his hit sitcom. You can even see a “Dutch” standee during an episode where Al and Peggy are in a video store, promising a free copy for all customers. Oddly enough, “Dutch” isn’t that bad.
Its reputation for being a royally awful vehicle for O’Neill is a bit over the top. I wouldn’t call “Dutch” awful. It’s just not a great movie; it’s more mediocre, when you dissect the whole experience. And compared to past John Hughes penned movies, it barely stacks up as third tier comedy. If “Dutch” deserves any kind of scorn it’s for John Hughes basically repeating himself twice over, and never delivering anything interesting from it. This is the chance for Ed O’Neill to really show he’s capable of being a big screen star in his own right, and he’s handed recycled John Hughes geared toward an R rating. O’Neill plays Dutch Dooley, a hard working and successful butcher who has fallen in love with a wealthy divorced mother (Jobeth Williams) who is at the mercy of her slimy ex-husband.
Her son Doyle (Ethan Embry) has been trained to resent her, and doesn’t mind making everyone’s life miserable as a petulant rich student at a boarding school. Dutch offers to pick Doyle up from his school and take him home by Thanksgiving to share dinner with the family, and Dutch soon finds bonding with Doyle to be pure hell. Doyle is relentless in his rude and snobbish behavior, prompting a lot of misadventures on the road for Dutch, whose tolerance for his attitude is tested over and over. O’Neill is charming enough as a hard working Joe trying to bond with Doyle, but Doyle never quite redeems himself. Even in the finale when Dutch and Doyle have no choice but to stay at a homeless shelter, Doyle is still utterly obnoxious despite bonding with an African American family and their toddler daughter.
Dutch and Doyle’s chemistry is fine enough, but a lot of their interplay seems regurgitated and pretty old hat, almost like Hughes took rejected scenes from “Uncle Buck” and “Curly Sue” and planted them hoping O’Neill would pull them off. “Dutch” is pretty much “Planes Trains and Automobiles,” if Buck and niece Tia from “Uncle Buck” were forced together on a road trip, instead of main characters Doyle and Dutch. Snot nosed little punk Doyle is essentially Tia, right down to the scowl, and constant berating of the lower class role model, and there’s just no new ground covered here. It’s not Hughes’ worst comedy effort by far, but it surely is by no means his best, and “Dutch” ends as a purely tolerable drama comedy with occasional chuckles and solid performances all around. When “Uncle Buck” ended I wanted to see more of the characters. When “Dutch” comes to an end, I was satisfied seeing the narrative resolve, allowing me to move on to something so much better.