16 November 2007
By Kristin Battestella
Who hasn’t seen The ‘burbs, honestly? Tom Hanks’ 1989 spooky comedy has laughs, star power, and a few scares to boot. Fifteen years after its debut, The ‘burbs continues to provide a tongue in cheek look at the horrors or suburbia, and it’s entertaining, too. Unassuming Ray Peterson (Hanks) suspects his new neighbors of foul play. The Klopeks don’t mow their lawn and stay out of sight. When fellow neighbor Walter (Gale Gordon) goes missing, neighbors Art (Rick Duccommun) and Rumsfield (Bruce Dern) unite with Rain in investigating the seemingly sinister Klopeks. Of course, Ray’s wife Carol (Carrie Fisher) just wants a nice simple vacation.
Hanks is perfect as everyman Ray. Younger fans who know Hanks more for his recent dramatic roles and Oscar winning performances (Philadelphia, Forrest Gump) will delight in his subtle comedy. Bosom Buddies fans, naturally, will love more from Hanks early comic genius.Although Hanks is clearly the star of the film, the supporting cast completes The ‘burbs. Without his fellow Corey Haim, Corey Feldman stands strong as Ricky-the punk of the block who aides the men in their quest. His asides and commentary of events as they unfold are still hysterical after many years and many viewings-partly because of Feldman’s delivery, but also due to the sharp writing of Dana Olsen (Hit later with George of the Jungle, missed with Inspector Gadget.)Post Star Wars Carrie Fisher plays the sardonic straight well with Hanks. As a child, I thought the public’s impression of Fisher was incorrect. (My hair was long enough to twist into those God awful buns mind you.) Perhaps, not as successful as fellow Star Wars alum Harrison Ford, Fisher still worked in film through the nineties, and her performance here showcases her comedic range. In recent years, Fisher has become a best selling author and script doctor.
Bruce Dern has several perfect physical comedy moments. His military toys are unique props, as is his young and prissy wife Bonnie (Wendy Schaal). The scene where the two women take control and knock on the Klopek’s door is just right, as is our long awaited introduction to the Klopeks. The brownies; the pretty girl that “came vit the frame”; the sardines and pretzels-all classic touches that will have you watching The ‘burbs again and again.Henry Gibson, Brother Theodore, and Courtney Gains play the spooky, un-neighborly Klopeks to a T. Although I’ve seen them all in other films, I always think, “Oh, He’s in The ‘burbs!” Their dry humor, innocent send ups, and final come to blows with Ray, Art, and Rumsfield never get old.
As much praise as I have for The’burbs, the film is not without its faults. The clothing and sets are mid eighties textbook-bad hair, wallpaper, and all. Ray’s dream sequence has grown tiresome in recent years, and some of Art’s dialogue I can do without. Modern audiences nursed on special effects might also find The ‘burbs lack of major effects upsetting. For The ‘burbs, it’s not in the time, the place, or the effects. The movie’s subtleties and veiled commentary on suburban life are its strengths.Director Joe Dante’s message that crazy neighbors are everywhere-especially in the seemingly blissful, perfectly mowed suburbs-is unfortunately not that far from the truth. In my own South Jersey community alone crime is on the rise. Today, some upstart filmmaker would tackle The ‘burbs as a serious horror film with all the blood and gore our desensitized minds can take. Dante here smartly made The ‘burbs an all out comedy-even though it does have a few genuine spooky moments. Sure I saw it as a kid, but Ray’s early glimpses of his crazy neighbors gave me the creeps. The bees nest, the ambiguous trash scene, even the 666 address of the Klopeks and the infamous femur bone.
Swift attention to detail keeps The ‘burbs smarter and more intelligent that today’s sophomoric send ups. Simple uses of music cues, lightning effects, and dark camera shots keep this seemingly inept comedy fresh and in audience’s mind long after your last viewing.The ‘burbs is a rare horror comedy (Horrody?) that the entire family can still enjoy and continue to enjoy for years to come. The presentation works on all levels-script, acting, direction-and is an extremely affordable DVD. A quality film that won’t break the bank, food for thought, and a few jumps in your chair, who knew these gems could be found in a Corey Feldman movie?