By Ralph Novak
July 29, 1991 12:00 PM

Ed O’Neill, Ethan Randall

It’s too bad that when John Hughes was writing this movie and all else failed him, his first impulse was to have one character or other kick somebody in the crotch. It’s even more too bad that all else failed him so often.

There is a half hour of enjoyable comedy crammed into this 107-min-ute film as O’Neill, the title character, drives his girlfriend’s little-rich-brat 13-year-old son, Randall, home from boarding school in Atlanta to Chicago so they can get to know each other.

O’Neill isn’t the sort of oaf he is on TV’s Married…with Children: he plays a competent, reasonable man, whose calm in the face of Randall’s surliness is a good touch. Another is a scene at a homeless shelter where O’Neill and Randall end up after a tedious series of mishaps. The pair encounter L. Scott Caldwell, whose performance as a homeless woman humanizes what is often a mechanical film without detracting from the comedy. (As they sit down to eat at the shelter and Randall turns up his nose at the basic yet appetizing food, O’Neill says, “What are you waiting for? A wine list?”)

The rest of the film, though, includes much milling around and the choppiest editing this side of your Uncle Ziggy’s home movies. At one point, for instance, O’Neill and Randall are hitchhiking; the scene fades, and the next thing you see, they’re riding on a bus, with no transition.

Director Peter (“Crocodile” Dundee) Faiman, though he makes both O’Neill and voting Randall look good. strands them too often. (JoBeth Williams, as Randall’s mother, is marooned so far out in left field her shoulders are brushing the wall.) He should also have complained to the producer about his writer, except that Hughes produced the movie as well as wrote it. Hughes tries to work some class consciousness into the comedy, having Randall refer frequently to O’Neill’s working-class background. Even there, he has a groin obsession: “Working for your money doesn’t count in your part of the world,” O’Neill tells the boy. “It’s whose crotch the doctor yanked you out of.”

Mostly, Hughes seems to have recycled his Planes, Trains and Automobiles script, minus Steve Martin and John Candy. Let’s see, next we could have an on-the-road mismatch involving a Bears linebacker and a Chicago Symphony flutist, or Willard Scott and Bryant Gumbel, or maybe even a writer-director who specializes in adolescent scripts and a reviewer who…Aaaarrrrgh! (PG-13)