October 4, 1996 in Seven

That Thing Tom Did! With The Same Deft Touch He Brings To Acting, Tom Hanks Directs A Fun, Sincere Movie

Chris Hewitt St. Paul Pioneer Press
 

No need to buy Dots or Twizzlers on the way into “That Thing You Do!” The movie itself is all the candy you’ll need.

Tom Hanks’ writing/directing/songwriting debut is sweet, funny and - given that it’s about a cutthroat business populated by weasels and back-stabbers - uncommonly good-natured. Right from the start, you hear the boppy, toetapping songs, you see the carefree goofiness of the early ‘60s, and something tells you you’re in for something good.

“That Thing You Do!” is a song recorded by an Erie, Pa., group called the Wonders. It becomes a surprise hit in 1964, and before you can say “Gerry and the Pacemakers,” they’re off on a tour under the tutelage of a manager who acts like a scoundrel but, since he’s played by Hanks, probably isn’t.

The Wonders’ drummer, Guy, is played by Tom Everett Scott, who resembles a younger Hanks both facially and wisecrackily.

Scott’s a mighty appealing actor, and this average Guy draws us into the story because we all know somebody like him.

Steve Zahn is funny as the Wonder’s wisenheimer guitarist, and the group is filled out by a puppyish bass player (Ethan Embry) and a sexy singer (Johnathon Schaech).

The incandescent Liv Tyler also makes the trip, playing Schaech’s vulnerable girlfriend.

Do not expect “That Thing You Do!” to be a gritty examination of life on the road - the worst thing the Wonders deal with is screaming fans. Instead, Hanks focuses on how cool it is for a group of guys to have a summer when they get to do what they always wanted to do and, in the process, find out if it’s really what they wanted, after all.

Sometimes, the blithe fizziness of the movie lets it down.

One of the Wonders disappears, never to be heard from again, and nobody ever wonders where he went (it’s as if the movie forgot about him).

And the inevitable moment when the Wonders get sick of each other doesn’t make much sense because the fight is instigated by Schaech and the movie still hasn’t helped us figure out who he is.

Hanks seems anxious to let us know there are pitfalls to this kind of success, but he can’t do it without smudging the movie’s bright tone, so he ignores them in favor of a beguiling, romantic finale.

It’s a minor problem, though. This isn’t a movie that expects us to think too hard about reality. Instead, it’s a chance to watch Hanks - who has built a career on gentle humor, sincerity and affability - teach a young cast of newcomers how to do that thing he does.

MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. “That Thing You Do!” Locations: East Sprague, Lyons and Showboat cinemas Credits: Directed by Tom Hanks, starring Tom Everett Scott, Johnathon Schaech, Liv Tyler, Tom Hanks, Steve Zahn, Ethan Embry Running time: 1:50 Rating: PG

2. Other views Here’s what other critics say about “That Thing You Do!”: Michael H. Price/Fort Worth Star-Telegram: This writer-director debut for Tom Hanks is just about everything a slice-of-life Americana picture should be, with Hanks the seasoned actor yielding openhanded support to an ensemble of eager fresh talents… . Hanks’ sense of pacing is brisk and confident, making the 110-minute running time whiz by like some Top 40 hit. Lawrence Toppman/The Charlotte Observer: Tom Hanks is rated Hollywood’s sweetest guy, on and offscreen. So if he were turned into a movie, what would you expect it to be? Funny without any edge of satire. Peppy, but never irritating. Hanks’ debut as a writer and director reflects its creator, down to the little dot over the “i” in “nice.”

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. “That Thing You Do!” Locations: East Sprague, Lyons and Showboat cinemas Credits: Directed by Tom Hanks, starring Tom Everett Scott, Johnathon Schaech, Liv Tyler, Tom Hanks, Steve Zahn, Ethan Embry Running time: 1:50 Rating: PG

2. Other views Here’s what other critics say about “That Thing You Do!”: Michael H. Price/Fort Worth Star-Telegram: This writer-director debut for Tom Hanks is just about everything a slice-of-life Americana picture should be, with Hanks the seasoned actor yielding openhanded support to an ensemble of eager fresh talents… . Hanks’ sense of pacing is brisk and confident, making the 110-minute running time whiz by like some Top 40 hit. Lawrence Toppman/The Charlotte Observer: Tom Hanks is rated Hollywood’s sweetest guy, on and offscreen. So if he were turned into a movie, what would you expect it to be? Funny without any edge of satire. Peppy, but never irritating. Hanks’ debut as a writer and director reflects its creator, down to the little dot over the “i” in “nice.”


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