A wagon train of disgruntled pioneers returning to the East is the incidental setting for tired, adolescent humor in this ponderous and directionless comedy.
New Mexico, the 1870s. Phil Taylor (Richard Lewis) and Ben Wheeler (Robert Picardo) lead a group of settlers who find life miserable in an uncivilized frontier town. They hire drunkard James Harlow (John Candy) to lead their wagon train to St. Louis. Along for the ride are Belle (Ellen Greene),
a prostitute, and Julian (John C. McGinley), a homosexual. News of the wagon train doesn't sit well with the businessmen pushing westward expansion, and desperado John Slade (Ed Lauter) is hired to stop it. Out on the trail, Harlow's poor judgment leads Taylor and Wheeler to question his ability
as wagon master. Things look bleak when they get lost in Sioux country, but the Native Americans (led by Rodney A. Grant) are happy to help any whites abandoning the West. After the wagon train survives a couple of Slade's misconceived attempts to destroy it, the villain confronts the group
directly. He's killed in a shoot-out by Julian, who turns out to be a fast-draw artist.
When news comes that a cavalry brigade has been dispatched to force them to turn back, Harlow recommends they run for it. During the ensuing argument, it comes out that Harlow was the wagon master for the infamous Donner party, an expedition that got lost in the Sierras and whose members
resorted to cannibalism to survive. Ashamed, he abandons the wagon train and heads for the nearest saloon. The next day, the cavalry, headed by General Larchmont (Charles Rocket), who coincidentally is the man actually responsible for the Donner tragedy, arrives. Harlow comes riding to the rescue
and challenges Larchmont to a fight. Harlow wins, and as the wagon train safely approaches St. Louis, he and Belle make plans for the future.
A wagon train heading east is a funny idea, but the filmmakers do little to exploit the concept's comic potential. Instead, disparate episodes are strung together without benefit of a strong narrative or characterizations. These episodes have the rhythm and structure of a typical TV sitcom,
although the pacing is perhaps even more deliberate. Many elements have been obviously cobbled together from other westerns, notably DANCES WITH WOLVES, the 1972 TV movie EVIL ROY SLADE, THE VILLAIN (1979), and the classic spoof BLAZING SADDLES. Most of the jokes surround characters who light
their farts and have sex with cattle; in addition, there's enough penis-related humor for two lame comedies. Comedian Lewis, who's famous and hilarious as a neurotic, complaining Jew, is oddly cast in a "normal guy" role.
A completely forgettable film, WAGONS EAST! gained notoriety when star John Candy died of a heart attack during production. When released, the movie was reviled by critics as a tarnishing stain on the actor's cherished memory. Candy gained popularity playing lovable losers in John Hughes films
like PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES and UNCLE BUCK, but his best acting work was done on television. (Profanity.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1994
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: A wagon train of disgruntled pioneers returning to the East is the incidental setting for tired, adolescent humor in this ponderous and directionless comedy. New Mexico, the 1870s. Phil Taylor (Richard Lewis) and Ben Wheeler (Robert Picardo) lead a grou… (more)