Revisit: The ‘Burbs (1989)

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The ‘Burbs is a 1989 horror-comedy starring Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher and Corey Feldman. I stumbled across this movie on Amazon Prime one night and thought I would give it a watch because I hadn’t seen it since it came out. To fully understand how I was approaching The ‘Burbs this time around you have to understand that in 1989 I would have been 12 years old, Tom Hanks wasn’t a mega-star yet, Carrie Fisher had just played Princess Leia in a gold bikini, Bruce Dern wasn’t yet known as Laura Dern’s father and Corey Feldman was a big box office draw. We were living in a bizarro world of sorts.

When I say that Tom Hanks wasn’t a mega-star yet, he wasn’t exactly an unknown either. At this point I had probably seen him in Splash and Dragnet and without a doubt I knew him from Big, not to mention Bosom Buddies. He was a young actor and known for comedies. There’s no doubt that he’s the reason that I wanted to see this movie.

At the time, I remember being disappointed. I didn’t think it was funny and it wasn’t scary. It was just this weird little movie. As the years have passed I have heard people say a lot of good things about the film and I never quite understood why. To me it was always that little movie that Tom Hanks did between Big and Turner & Hooch. I didn’t know who Joe Dante was and I wasn’t old enough to understand the suburban culture that was being spoofed.

The movie centers around the residents of a suburban cul-de-sac. Ray Petersen (Hanks) has taken a week off from work and just wants to lounge around the house. His friend Art (Rick Ducommun) has his house to himself for the week. Across the street is Vietnam vet Mark (Dern) and a high-school kid named Ricky (Feldman). Everyone in the neighborhood is curious about the new people who just moved in, the Klopecs. They have a rundown house, a dead lawn, they make strange sounds at night and they have barely been seen. As rumors and assumptions swirl, suspicions start to grow that the Klopecs are murdering people in their house.

There are a lot of funny moments in the ‘Burbs. Most of them are due to the direction of Joe Dante. This film has his sense of humor all over it. Tom Hanks gives a great performance. Bruce Dern is wonderful as the military man who is slightly out of his mind. Everyone in the cast is strong.

Carrie Fisher is terrific as Ray’s wife. She just wants him to stop spying on the neighbors and enjoy his time off. Unfortunately, the character isn’t given a whole lot to do. There is only one point where she moves the story forward and honestly any of the other characters could have done it and nothing would have been different. Corey Feldman’s Ricky has the same problem. You could remove both of the characters from the movie and nothing about the story would change.

The message of the story seems to be that you should mind your own business and not worry about what your neighbors are doing. It does a great job of showing how crazy this group gets while trying to figure out what is happening at the Klopec house. The problem is that the message is undercut by the ending. I won’t give it away but I will say that the film could end in one of two ways and the way that they chose to end it doesn’t work.

It’s far from perfect but the ‘Burbs has enough laughs that it is worth your time to watch. I’m happy that I was able to go back and revisit this movie. I’ve had the wrong opinion of it for a long time.

 


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