The ‘burbs (1989, Joe Dante)

Until The 'burbs gets around to actually having to pay off on its premise–the strange new neighbors are really serial killers–it’s quite good. There’s no way the third act pay off can deliver and the film’s quality takes a number of hits in the last half hour or so. Olsen’s script is, technically, at fault… but it’s hard to think of how the narrative could have unfolded and not had problems.

What the film does have, even with the last act problems, is some of Dante’s most enthusiastic work. The film’s perfectly casted–I counted three times the actors were trying not to laugh during a scene–and he gets these great performances. Olsen’s script sets up these fine characters, Dante and the cast are able to turn them into something even better… then the script abandons them. At one point, Carrie Fisher just disappears. Instead of figuring out how to incorporate her (or even just keep her around), Olsen sends her away. Coincidentally, Fisher disappears about the time the film hits the bumps.

Tom Hanks is very good in the lead. He manages not to get overshadowed by Bruce Dern and Rick Ducommun, who are a lot wackier. Wendy Schaal’s good as Dern’s wife (she too disappears though) and Brother Theodore is hilarious as one of the villains. Corey Feldman is a tad broad… and looks a little old for a teenager.

Amazing Jerry Goldsmith score.

With its marvelous Dante direction, The 'burbs is almost a success.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Dante; written by Dana Olsen; director of photography, Robert M. Stevens; edited by Marshall Harvey; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, James H. Spencer; produced by Larry Brezner and Michael Finnell; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Tom Hanks (Ray Peterson), Bruce Dern (Lt. Mark Rumsfield), Carrie Fisher (Carol Peterson), Rick Ducommun (Art Weingartner), Corey Feldman (Ricky Butler), Wendy Schaal (Bonnie Rumsfield), Henry Gibson (Dr. Werner Klopek), Brother Theodore (Uncle Reuben Klopek), Courtney Gains (Hans Klopek) and Gale Gordon (Walter Seznick).

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