Release Date: July 19, 1985
Cast: Tom Hanks, Dabney Coleman, Lori Singer, Charles Durning, Carrie Fisher, Edward Herrmann, Jim Belushi, Tom Noonan, Gerritt Graham, David Lander, David Ogden Stiers
Writer(s): Francis Veber, Yves Robert, Robert Klane
Synopsis: In the midst of a coup, the director of the CIA creates a decoy for his enemies to chase around the city while he gets his ducks in a row. That decoy is a random citizen who happens to be wearing one red shoe. Hilarity ensues.
Review: By 1985, Tom Hanks had already made Bosom Buddies, Splash and Bachelor Party. He wasn’t all-caps Tom Hanks, but he was definitely a star (with a second Summer movie on the way just a month later in Volunteers). Director Stan Dragoti was in a similar spot, having just directed Mr. Mom two years earlier and the lesser Love At First Bite a few years before that. Under those auspices, 20th Century Fox dumped $16 million into a remake of a decade-old French film and waited for these two up-and-comers to print them some money. They even got Lori Singer (The Falcon and the Snowman), a Daryl Hanna lookalike to boost the chances of someone seeing the trailer and saying, “hey, just like Splash!”
It’s impossible to look at this movie, which bombed at the box office and got slammed by the likes of Siskel & Ebert—naming it one of the three worst movies of the Summer of 1985—and see it with the exact sense of deflation that anyone rooting for Hanks might have felt at the time. That’s not possible, not as a first-time watch in 2015, anyway. But it is pretty easy to see what everyone was bitching about. This is boring movie that squanders an incredible cast on a turgid wrong man plot, told mostly from the perspective of the CIA surveillance team whose stupidity robs the movie of any chance at cleverness.
The movie starts off fine, with a CIA agent’s drug transaction getting sabotaged by Deputy Director Cooper (Coleman) in an attempted coup meant to oust the current director, Ross (Durning). But Ross is aware of the coup and that he’s being surveilled, so he sends his assistant (Herrmann, R.I.P.) to the airport to stage a brief encounter with a random civilian, implicating this person as a spy who has information that will exonerate Ross. That civilian winds up being Richard Drew (Hanks) a normal-looking concert violinist who wears one red shoe as a superstitious tic (for his baseball team). Now Cooper and his men think that Richard is a spy and the rest of the movie drags from there.
There’s such an awesome cast of character actors in this movie, it’s not even funny. Gerrit Graham (The Phantom of the Paradise), Tom Noonan (Manhunter) and the aforementioned Coleman, Durning and Herrmann. They’re all doing good work as usual, but the script has nothing for them. Coleman gets the worst of it, his character constantly misinterpreting the most minor things as further evidence of Hanks’ ability as a super spy. But if there’s a bright spot to any of this it would be these guys, trying to hold up this circus tent as the heavens rain lukewarm piss down on them. Actually, we need something blander to rain down on them. A torrent of Jim Belushi? Why not, he’s in the movie too!
If we’re trying to say nice things, then Hanks is the next obvious person to discuss. But the strange thing about TMWTORS is that Hanks feels like a secondary character in his own movie. Maybe it’s that he gets swallowed up by the shrill cutaways to men in aviators misinterpreting his most banal behavior. It’s a perspective problem and a filmmaking problem AND a script problem. You have an inactive protagonist on whom everyone dumps unearned and unwarranted meaning. It works for maybe the first twenty minutes. Coleman and his crew see Hanks’ job—which takes him all over the world—as the perfect cover for a spy. That makes sense, even if it’s not remotely funny or entertaining. Outside of that, you have a scene where Hanks avoids a spy waiting for him in a dentist’s office because all of the lights are out and a woman is moaning in the back office. Please allow your screaming laughter to subside before you continue reading.
When the movie actually tries for real laughs, they’re beyond cheap. Carrie Fisher plays a married friend who tries to seduce Hanks with Tarzan and Jane role-play. That, of course, gets surveilled and recorded. And guess what? The recording gets played at full volume on the speakers of a moving surveillance van. And guess what? Her husband is within earshot of the van and thinks his wife is fucking some guy in the back! And guess what else? He’s so distraught that he starts chasing them on a bike and crashes into a lake! BWAHAHAHA! Only the finest, decade-old French jokes for you, audience!
The one and only spy-thing they got right is the torture, just not in the way they intended.
Better Off Dead or The Sure Thing: Better off dead
Next Up: The Adventures of Mark Twain