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Movie Reviews : 'The 'burbs': There Goes the Neighborhood

February 17, 1989|KEVIN THOMAS

It's a safe bet that Universal slated "The 'burbs" for its citywide opening today, hoping that Tom Hanks would get nominated for "Big." Certainly, this grimly unfunny comedy needs all the help that it can get. It's so bad it doesn't deserve the boost a Hanks nomination may give it.

Whatever persuaded Hanks, especially now that he has hit his stride as actor and comedian of the first rank, to do this picture? For that matter, why was this turkey ever given the green light in the first place? (Didn't anyone remember Columbia's wretched and all-too-similar 1981 Belushi-Aykroyd "Neighbors"?) What was it that the savvy director Joe Dante saw in co-producer Dana Olsen's script?

It's inconceivable that "The 'burbs" looked good on paper. Yet its makers are far from amateurs: This is the first film financed by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard's Imagine Entertainment and the initial production in the company's multipicture distribution deal with Universal.

So much for speculation. What we're confronted with is the endlessly labored spectacle of three grown men (Hanks, Bruce Dern and Rick Ducommun) behaving like little boys when a weirdo family--a Bela Lugosi-like doctor (Henry Gibson), his surly, monosyllabic brother (Brother Theodore) and a dim, goofy-looking kid (Courtney Gains)--moves in the ramshackle Victorian in their cul-de-sac in Hinkley Hills. (True, the newcomers do seem to have installed a particularly ferocious furnace in the cellar.)

At any rate, the three men get completely carried away when an elderly man (Gale Gordon) who lives at the end of their cul-de-sac disappears. (Why don't they--or at least Hanks' marginally sensible wife, Carrie Fisher, or their bright teen-age neighbor Corey Feldman--call the cops or check with Gordon's daughter as to his whereabouts?)

Not only is there nothing amusing, or frightening, about the men's foolishness but there's no discernible point to it, except perhaps to suggest that the dullness of suburbia can rot your brain. A momentary plea for tolerance gives way to the apparent proposition that it's all right to torment your "different" neighbors because they may be a bad lot up to no good after all. It's hardly a wholesome message to send to the impressionable young audience for whom the film seems primarily intended. "The 'burbs" (rated PG) is the pits.

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