Suburbanites suspect their reclusive neighbors of malfeasance.
Directed by Joe Dante
Starring Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, and Carrie Fisher
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
However, Dante and Olsen leave their characters in such an unlikable place that there’s no tension in the dawning discovery that they’re misguided. This cul-de-sac could use some purging. The most inoffensive homeowner is a selfish coot who encourages his dog to shit on a neighbor’s lawn. Bruce Dern’s military nut is a dangerous proto-fascist with a trophy wife, Rick Ducommun’s slob is a repulsive wrecking ball who’s introduced firing a gun wildly into Hanks’ backyard before he tromps into his kitchen and asks Hanks’ wife (a dramatically underserved Carrie Fisher) to make him breakfast. Corey Feldman, as uncharismatic and mugging as ever, is there to do a bad Spicoli impersonation. Even Hanks himself, one of the most charming actors ever, never endears himself or is provided an opportunity to make a joke or comment that isn’t cruel or cutting or anything other than complaining. Basically, fuck all these people, and bring on the Frankenstein monster pulling all their heads off their shoulders.
Even with the hateful characters and the shockingly hamfisted directing (the screaming upon discovery of the femur and the subsequent camera motion into and out of their faces had me yelling Fuck You so loud, my neighbors’ dog started barking), there’s still that premise rising up to redeem the film and put these pieces of shit in their places. Instead, the Kopek’s are murderers all along, vindicating Hanks et al in the eyes of their neighbors and their families. I’m not wholly opposed to the Kopek’s being shady, but Dante giving the ‘good’ guys a win just demonstrates how dramatically he misunderstands how the viewer must be perceiving them. What if Hanks went to jail, lost his job, and then he returns in an epilogue to his old house to help his family move away, as they can no longer afford to live there. The Kopeks, having rebuilt, smile triumphantly at him as he drives away, and then he sees them do something shady in the rear view mirror. End credits. Hanks needs to suffer for being so criminal and fascistic, but all Dante can stand to give him is some singed hair and a torn shirt.
The Burbs is from a period of time in movie comedy where the rules just don’t translate to the modern day anymore. Harmless slapstick, boorish goofballs, accents; it’s wasted on me. There will likely come a time when the dominant Judd Apatow formula of improvised dialog amongst characters in various states of arrested development land exactly as flat as 80’s pop comedy, but that time is not yet. The Burbs is lacking in tonal control, the courage of its convictions, and the effective utilization of its most potent assets. The best thing I can say about its existence is that it marks one step closer to the end of Dante’s career. D