That Thing You Do! Movie Review

When you're a star as big as Tom Hanks, you can do whatever the hell your heart desires.

Such is the lesson to be taken away from That Thing You Do!, Hanks's screenwriting and directorial debut. And just what is That Thing You Do? Well, if you don't know, you must live in a cave, and a small one at that. The title refers to the one and only hit song of "The Wonders" (get it?). It is a song that is repeated throughout this film... over and over... in full or in part, a total of 11 times. I counted.

Hanks's ridiculously simplistic tale follows a couple of months in the lives of a small-time band from Erie, Pennsylvania, who almost by accident hit it big with their titular single. The cast is spearheaded by Tom Everett Scott, a young man who looks, sounds, and acts exactly like Hanks, and even has the same first name. Scott plays Guy, aka "Shades," the group's drummer who is somehow alternately nerdy when he isn't being supercool. Add on moody frontman Johnathon Schaech, who looks down-right frightening, plus wisecracking Steve Zahn, and you've pretty much got the band. (Hanks plays the group's manager in later scenes.)

That Thing You Do! takes The Wonders from playing talent shows to pizza parlors to getting a manager to a record deal to Billboard magazine to getting go-go dancers on stage with them, which is, I guess, as high as a music career ever gets. Then the band breaks up and the movie is over, and then you get to go home and go to sleep with the comfort that this is not a movie that's going to keep you up at night wondering about plot twists.

Without any bulky plot to get in the way of his perfectly linear story, Hanks is free to do what he does best -- crack jokes like he learned on "Bosom Buddies" with then-co-star and That Thing cameo-man Peter Scolari. It's funny in the same way that the aforementioned show was funny -- not witty, but good for an occasional laugh when someone falls down.

Yes, everything is funny in this Tom Hanks world of peaches, cream, and racial harmony (this is supposed to be 1964). I don't know if you can blame Hanks alone for this senseless and totally obvious film that is devoid of emotion, but I hope that Hollywood takes from this the lesson that a big movie star does not a talented writer/director make. But I doubt they will.

In all fairness, That Thing You Do! is a pleasant film perfect for a brain-dead matinee, and the theme song is a catchy tune that gets your foot tapping quickly. And while the movie, like the song, has a nice beat and you can dance to it, why settle for this single when you can get a double CD's worth of fun or intrigue in the theater next door?

Hanks and Scott (in the shades), bizarre bastard brothers or freaks of nature? No man can say. Note that Hanks has sprouted the head of Johnathon Schaech in this rare candid photo.


Comments

That Thing You Do! Rating

" Weak "

Rating: PG, 1996

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