Have you ever wondered what a marriage between Forrest Gump and Princess Leia would look like? Well, wonder no more.
In 1989 black comedy The ‘Burbs, Tom Hanks stars as Ray Peterson, a tightly-wound suburban dad. Starring alongside Hanks is Carrie Fisher as his wife, Carol, and Bruce Dern, Corey Feldman and Rick Ducommun as neighbours Mark Rumsfield, Ricky Butler and Art Weingartner respectively.
The ‘Burbs‘ cast reads like a who’s who of the late ’80s, and its central philosophy is fairly simple: suburban life can be pretty strange.
Honestly, The ‘Burbs opens pretty slowly, taking its time to establish its characters (whose names you’ll instantly forget), and to set up its pretty simple story. Ray (Hanks) becomes convinced that his new, reclusive neighbours are hiding a secret, and, along with the other residents of Mayfield Place, obsesses over uncovering the Klopek family’s secret.
While the film falls squarely into the comedy genre, it does so with very little by way of actual comedy. The movie’s first third in particular lacks any real comedy, and after that, many of its attempts at humour can be described as shameless slapstick.
There are several highlights, though, including a particularly awkward scene in which the movie’s cast assembles inside the Klopek house which demonstrates exactly what the film could have been. The performances of the cast are certainly passable, but The ‘Burbs seems to have been an exercise in casting non-comic actors in comedic roles, and it really didn’t pay off.
The ‘Burbs main issue is its apparent identity crisis. It strives to match the Tim Burton madness of Beetlejuice without any of its unbridled wackiness, and the following year saw Burton one-up The ‘Burbs with his suburban gothic fantasy romance Edward Scissorhands.
Perhaps this is The ‘Burbs biggest problem: it evokes several funnier and more interesting films of the same era, failing to fully live up to any of them, or indeed its own potential. It’s a shame, though, because conceptually, the film has promise, it simply lacks in its execution.
Summary: A mindless and mostly unfunny comedy, The ‘Burbs is good for scratching a very particular sort of late ’80s movie itch.