“GOD BLESS AMERICA…AGAIN! THROUGH THE STRAIGHT LACED MUSICAL SHENANIGANS OF MICHAEL MOORE’S FRIED BACON”
“Canadian Bacon (1995)”
Music By Elmer & Peter Bernstein
Quartet Records SCE066
26 Tracks/Disc Time: 39:10
In 1993, Director Michael Moore, (YES! He of both “Bowling For Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 9/11” ) was riding high with his wonderful and memorable 1989 documentary “Roger & Me”, which was major hit with critics and audiences alike. Pretty much in the driver’s seat in what to write or direct next, Moore prevailed upon his own original script “Canadian Bacon”, which was supposed to be a satire of how the media handled the entire 1990 Gulf War dubbed “Operation Desert Storm”. The film revolves around a weak and incompetent President of the United States (Alan Alda) who’s popularity is in the toilet along with the country’s economy. Along with the fact that there’s no real viable threat to the country to help boost morale. The President and his also incompetent staff lead by Secretary of State Stu Smiley (Kevin Pollak, “The Usual Suspects”) and General Panzer (Rip Torn, “Men In Black”) try to come up with an idea to solve this problem. After failing to restart the Cold War with Russia, the “geniuses” come up with a war against “Canada”!, all because they stopped being nice. With a massive campaign of anti-Canadian propaganda, the polls start to rise and along with it the devious plan of weapons manufacturer R.J. Hacker (G.D. Spradlin), who has his own lucrative agenda in mind. Enter Niagra Falls Sheriff Bud Boomer (the late John Candy) and his pals (Rhea Pearlman, Bill Nunn and Kevin J. O’Connor) who have plans of their own to invade their neighbors to the North and strike a blow before they do. Everything starts to unravel quickly for the President as Boomer does crossover and actually prevents a major war from happening.
The film was the very last film that comedian John Candy starred in that was released theatrically two years after its’ completion, which was an unfortunate misfire and a rather shameful attempt to cash in on the beloved Candy’s legacy along with the shameful “Wagon’s East”, in which he passed away during the filming of it. The film was passed over by over four dozen studios before it actually got a greenlight and while the film does showcase Candy very well, it’s rather a major disaster for Moore and one that needed severe re-writes. The smartest and only major bright spot stemming from this fiasco was the work of Elmer and Peter Bernstein, whose names (and rather smartly) aren’t on the original film and video posters. So it was a rather pleasant surprise that they did score this film (after seeing it the first time on video in the 90’s) and did it with the best intentions as the film was originally conceived to be something more aiken to Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” and not what resulted in the final cut.
Elmer of course, was a more serious and dramatic composer with films such as “The Ten Commandments”, “The Magnificent Seven”, “The Great Escape” amongst others who in the late 70’s branched out into the comedy genre with the blockbuster hits, “National Lampoon’s Animal House”, “Airplane!” and “Stripes”, along with “Ghostbusters”, and would toil successfully for ten years until he grew increasingly bored of repeating himself and wanted to go back to the dramatic scoring that he loved so much. However, when “Canadian Bacon” rolled around, Bernstein took on the assignment because he loved Michael Moore’s ideas and what he had in mind originally for the film: a straight laced satire featuring a straight laced score for which Bernstein and his son, Peter did finally provide but not for the film that was originally envisioned. The score itself is exactly as advertised: straight and serious with moments of Bernstein’s comic flair and touch that made his previous scores for the genre very memorable.However, this is also what works against this score as well in that the actions on screen weren’t funny enough and the score needed alot more of Bernstein’s “funny” music because the film was severely lacking the energy that it needed to go about this on its’ own.
The opening track “Presidential Motorcade” pretty much dictates the tone of the score with its’ cheerful straight laced march that leads to the dramatic and comedic shenanigans of the resulting tracks that follow that include “2M7”, “Vlad & Co.” and Rejection” “which feature a nice little ode to Bernstein’s work on “Spies Like Us” only less bombastic than its’ predecessor but very effective for what they are. The Bernstein’s have fun in a mock psudo-military march for the film’s villain Hacker “Hacker”, that features devious undertones in its’ orchestration and leads to more mock sinister tracks that include “War Room”, “Dies First / Hacking”, and “Hacker Dies”, which actually is one of the best scenes and best scoring in the film (ironically!). Of course, we could not be left off with some “comedic” moments for Candy & Co. with tracks such as “To Canada”, “Mountie Letter / To Toronto”, “Toronto / Honey Shoots”, and “Honey Breaks Through”, where some rather nice moments arise and largely better than the movie itself. Three major standouts of note here “War Room Alarm / O.C.B. / War Room Two”, “War Room / Tower” and “Conclusion & Coda’s”, all great examples of how great this score would have been if and (dare I say!) if the film was successful and taken the direction that was intended. Great music wasted in the final reel unfortunately here.
This is a fine release by Quartet Records which actually does justice in rescuing this score from the complete obscurity it would’ve gone to if it wouldn’t be for the label taking a risk on a comedy score such as this one. The Bernstein’s cannot be faulted for the mess that was on screen and they wrote something that was inspired even though it lacked the “over-the-top” energy to make it that much better. Regardless, this is a score that should be given a look at because you might find yourself enjoying it. Marginal thumbs up for the score. The film, thumbs way down (except for the late John Candy, of course!!)