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Legacy Review

Volunteers (1985)

Back before Hollywood had properly figured out the Tom Hanks everyman persona, Volunteers provided a goofy little lark where Hanks plays a totally different type of protagonist.

I’m not sure whether it’s the vertigo of seeing Tom Hanks acting as a smarmy Ivy League brat with a transatlantic accent or if his performance indeed is a bit shaky, but, for the first time, Hanks seems just a little bit uncomfortable in front of a camera.

The story his character is plugged into is bizarre and mostly a flop: After a long intro, Hanks is flown to Thailand with (future wife) Rita Wilson and John Candy as part of the Peace Corps. From there, the movie shifts identities about five times: fish-out-of-water comedy, broad satire, romantic comedy, elaborate parody, and action comedy. That genre sprawl could, in the right hands, be fun, but here it’s just sloppy and incoherent, with stakes and tone herky-jerking every other scene.

Also a problem: There’s lots of Asian caricature and a cartoonified portrait of banana republic communism. The movie can’t decide if it’s a satire of racism or actually just racist, but it’s pretty unpleasant regardless.

The movie limps to watchability, mostly thanks to the talent of the cast. Candy, in particular, gave me about five solid laughs doing his schtick; the bit where he tries to escape a tiger is hysterical. The production values are also solid; you really feel like you’re sweating in the jungle while you watch it.

But, overall, it’s a pass unless you really want to hear Hanks do a Katherine Hepburn impression.

Is It Good?

Not Very Good (3/8)

Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.


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