If you haven’t read the intro to this series please do so that you have some idea of what’s going on here.
Who doesn’t like Tom Hanks?? I can even overlook his loathsome political beliefs because I’ll be darned if he isn’t a great actor who has starred in a plethora of really entertaining movies. Our marathon doesn’t have the best of Hanks’ filmography by any stretch, but there are reasons for that which will become clear down the road. That being said, I do think we have a solid cross section of his career, from one of his breakthrough roles in 1984 to a late 90’s entry that he wrote, co-starred in, & directed. Rest assured that you’ll be seeing a lot more Hanks here in the future, but I think this is a fun way to start.
Full disclosure…I hadn’t watched Bachelor Party for many years until I thought it prudent to do so for this discussion. Let’s be honest…Tom Hanks has grown into a much better actor in the past three & a half decades than he was in 1984, and has starred in a ton of more highly regarded movies. However, what one gets with Bachelor Party is Hanks at his peak level of fun, before he got caught up in trying to become a great actor, before he became a regular at awards shows, before anyone had high expectations of him. Bachelor Party is exactly what it sounds like. It tells the story of Rick, a happy go lucky bus driver by day and a total party animal by night. His buddies throw him a wild bachelor party the night before the wedding (as is always the case on TV & in movies even though it’s not actually a thing in real life most of the time). Hijinks occur, and the overriding question is whether the groom will cheat on his gal before the big day. The bad guys are the bride’s father & her ex-boyfriend, who conspire to torpedo the marriage before it even begins. Recently deceased Tawny Kitaen portrays the bride, and the wave of fame earned from this movie and a notable music video she starred in a few years later was something she successfully rode for decades. The best man is played by Adrian Zmed, who was a big deal for a few years in the 80’s (anyone remember Grease 2?? TJ Hooker?? Dance Fever??). Bachelor Party has a tepid 54% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but that’s not surprising. It isn’t really the kind of mindless entertainment notoriously priggish critics praise.
To date there have been four Toy Story films, a franchise largely responsible for reviving interest in animation and taking the genre to a whole new level. Feel free to watch the entire series, but we’re only covering the original film today. It was the first ever full length feature using computer animation, putting Pixar on the map. In the years since Pixar has produced two dozen movies, and most of them have been hits. Perhaps this is trivia that only interests me, but did you know Apple founder Steve Jobs is listed as an executive producer of Toy Story?? Or that Joss Whedon, now known for writing & directing The Avengers and creating television shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Angel, is credited as one of the writers of Toy Story?? Anyway, the plot revolves around a group of toys that belong to eight year old Andy. These toys become walking, talking, breathing beings as long as no humans are around, which is almost creepy when you really ponder the idea. The leader of Andy’s toys is Sheriff Woody (voiced by our guy Hanks), a pull string rag doll cowboy, but his role within the group and in Andy’s life is threatened by the arrival of Andy’s latest birthday present…Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen), a boisterous space ranger action figure who doesn’t realize he is a toy. Woody is jealous of Buzz and a rivalry develops, but things happen and they eventually become friends. Toy Story was the third highest grossing film of 1995 and boasts a rare 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Critically acclaimed & accessible to the masses is a rare combination.
Turner & Hooch
I just watched Turner & Hooch not long ago, which was the first time I’d seen it in atleast 20 years. You know what though?? It holds up well. It’s a comedy, but provides a small glimpse into Hanks’ future with some dramatic, tearjerker type scenes because (spoiler alert) anytime a cute animal is in mortal danger there will be some emotion. A similar film…K-9 starring Jim Belushi…featuring a cop partnered with a dog had been released a few months earlier in 1989, and I recall thinking that K-9 was a better movie than Turner & Hooch, but critics & audiences alike disagreed with me. One thing I noticed when watching Turner & Hooch recently was the supporting cast, which includes forgotten Brat Packer Mare Winningham, Craig T. Nelson (you remember him from films like All the Right Moves & Blades of Glory as well as hilarious 90’s sitcom Coach), and Reginald VelJohnson, who was Bruce Willis’ sidekick in Die Hard and the Dad who had to put up with nerdy neighbor Urkel in Family Matters. Kudos to the casting director.
Unlike alot of other Hanks films this isn’t one I’m all that familiar with or have watched many times, which surprises me given my affection for the dramedy sub-genre. Roger Ebert criticized Punchline for “making the fatal mistake of taking stand-up comedy seriously”, while the Washington Post opined that it “commits the unforgivable sin of being a movie about comedy that’s not funny.” Both are valid criticisms because dramedy is so difficult to pull off successfully, but Punchline isn’t bad because how can anything with a cast including Hanks, Sally Field, & John Goodman be terrible?? Hanks straddles the line, making one ponder how great he could’ve been as a standup comedian while simultaneously showing off acting chops that have been refined in the 30+ years since Punchline was produced. We can’t be too surprised though that it’s a performance oftentimes lost in the shuffle of his stellar filmography. Still, I’d encourage anyone to give it a whirl.
That Thing You Do!
By the time Hanks wrote, directed, & co-starred in That Thing You Do! in 1996 he’d already won two Academy Awards for Best Actor and was a bona fide megastar, so of course Hollywood was like “Okay dude, go ahead and make your silly little film about a one hit wonder band in the 60’s with its catchy theme song”. The thing is, it’s actually a pretty decent flick. The cast consists mostly of character actors like Steve Zahn, Tom Everett Scott, & Ethan Embry. Liv Tyler is also there in one of her earlier performances, just a couple of years after she & Alicia Silverstone had gained notoriety starring in Aerosmith’s music video for the song Crazy. I suppose Jonathon Schaech, who portrays the band’s brooding lead singer in That Thing You Do!, was supposed to become a big star, but Hollywood didn’t get the memo. And then there is Hanks, whose role as the band’s manager is relatively inconsequential, but whose name & mere presence helped the movie make $35 million at the box office…not bad for film with a $26 million budget. For context, 1996’s biggest hit…Will Smith’s Independence Day…had a budget of $75 million. It certainly helps that That Thing You Do! is a pretty good film with a 93% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning that critics liked it even more than folks like you & me. It’s the kind of delightfully satisfying movie that one watches on a lazy weekend when there’s nothing more pressing going on.