The 'burbs (1989) / Comedy-Thriller

MPAA Rated: PG for mild language, sexuality and some disturbing images
Running Time: 101 min.

Cast: Tom Hanks, Rick Ducommun, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Corey Feldman, Wendy Schaal, Henry Gibson, Courtney Gains, Brother Theodore
Director:  Joe Dante
Screenplay: Dana Olsen

Review published July 4, 2002

For all of Joe Dante's talent, I think he needs to get someone else to direct the final half hour of his films.  Like Gremlins, Innerspace and Small Soldiers, Dante delivers expertly in the set-up for The 'burbs, only to lose control once the madness and mayhem start.  I'm guessing his impulse must be that the more chaos shown, the more funny it will be.  Little does Dante know, the tone of the film becomes completely unraveled, and by prolonging the hysteria, a certain numbness to the proceedings sets in, with boredom the final result.

The 'burbs does start off quite well, introducing us to typical family man, Ray Peterson (Hanks, Big), currently using his vacation time to hang around the house, hoping that doing absolutely nothing helps to get rid of his work-related stress, and gain him some much needed R&R.  His neighbors are sometimes annoying, but loveable, eccentrics, and part of his entertainment comes in watching their humorous antics all day.  There is a new family in the cul-de-sac, the Klopeks, who keep hidden as much as possible, only seen at night digging around in their backyard.  Rumors begin to fly as to what the strange neighbors might be doing, only made more suspicious when one of the other neighbors disappears without a trace.  Now Ray and the rest of the hood join together to get to the bottom of all the strange occurrences.

Starting off the first half with a good dose of light Hitchcockian fare, The 'burbs develops some modestly funny characters put into a Rear Window type setting.  Instead of one person concocting wild notions about a potentially murderous neighbor, we have the neighborhood all speculating about their spooky new street occupants, doing what they can to try to confirm if their suspicions are true.  In addition to the suspense, Dante injects some mild horror elements, and does a fine job balancing between the comedy and the creepy bits

As this vehicle comes in for a landing, turbulence sets in, and it all begins to come apart.  The last half hour is almost devoid of laughs, try as they might, appearing as though Dante just didn't know where to go with Dana Olsen's (Inspector Gadget) meager script.  Several different endings were shot, leaving us with an amusing premise, poorly executed.

The 'burbs isn't without merit, and for a light comic diversion, it's not bad if you are a fan of Hanks or just into paranoia flicks.  It just never seems to rise above a one-joke idea into something of more significance.  All of the elements were there, but it just couldn't gel.

Qwipster's rating:

2002 Vince Leo