Combustible Celluloid
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With: Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Rick Ducommun, Corey Feldman, Henry Gibson, Brother Theodore, Courtney Gains, Wendy Schaal, Gale Gordon, Dick Miller, Robert Picardo, Cory Danziger, Nick Katt, Patrika Darbo
Written by: Dana Olsen
Directed by: Joe Dante
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 101
Date: 02/17/1989

The 'Burbs (1989)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Screen Streets

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Joe Dante's The 'Burbs (1989) was hugely misunderstood in its day, probably because it was viewed as a Tom Hanks starring vehicle, and it was much darker and more twisted than anything else Hanks had done, or would do. But in retrospect, and whether or not Hanks is in it, it's certainly one of Dante's most enjoyable films.

Hanks stars as Ray Peterson, who lives with his wife (Carrie Fisher) in a nice American suburb. Ray has decided to spend his vacation just relaxing at home. Sure, the neighbors bicker over things like noise and dogs pooping on lawns, but life is good. When mysterious folks move to the block, Ray, Art Weingartner (Rick Ducommun), and Mark Rumsfield (Bruce Dern) become curious.

And after a series of strange noises and lights at night, and when another neighbor suddenly disappears with odd clues left behind, the neighbors become suspicious, even paranoid. Every move the new people make feeds it; it could mean anything, really, but the first conclusion is something sinister.

As usual, Dante balances his dark humor with mounting thrills and suspense, while slyly commenting on the darkest of human behaviors, especially our penchant for war and destruction as a solution for any problem. The ending is especially complex, with Ray giving a speech about how "we" are the bad guys, but in actuality, the bad guys are still out there. Corey Feldman plays a fascinating character, watching everything from his front porch, inviting friends, and serving snacks. When his girlfriend suggests that they go to the movies, he replies that his neighborhood is better than the movies.

Hanks is mostly a straight man here, reacting to things and being uptight. Yet this movie also suggests what a daring actor he really is, willing to take on such dark and subtle material, and to twist his persona for the project. It's too bad that his fans couldn't see what he was up to. But there's always a second chance.

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