"That Thing You Do!"
Opened: October 4, 1996 | Rated: PG
"That Thing You Do!" is a happy movie that takes place in a happy world.
Double-Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks wrote and directed this lightweight tome about the rise and fall of a teeny bopper band in the early 1960s, and while he peppers his story with easy-to-like characters and catchy tunes, this is very much a freshman effort.
Hanks' story centers around Guy Patterson (Tom Everett Scott from TV's "Grace Under Fire"), the new drummer for a talent show teen band called The Wonders, who works in his father's Main Street appliance store as the film opens.
Hanks spends a few minutes on the band's character differences and introduces the girlfriends (Charlize Theron, also in last week's "2 days in the Valley", and the talented Liv Tyler), then lurches into The Wonders' fast-track path to hitdom after Guy speeds up the beat of their signature song, "That Thing You Do," turning it in to a dance phenomonon.
Filled with fits and starts, it's sloppy film-making, but I just couldn't bring myself to dislike it. What can I say? I'm an easy smile.
Written, directed and acted with '60s sensibilities that don't quite play in the '90s, "That Thing You Do!" feels like it was made in the era it takes place -- and for that, Hanks deserves recognition.
Anyone who was a teenager in 1964 will probably feel flushed with nostalgia. The atmosphere, the attitudes and the production design are that strong.
But the story has no conflict. Every character is a nice guy -- even the record producers -- and that leaves the film with no flavor except that of a pseudo-documentary about this hot new "teen sensation."
Immediately after "That Thing You Do!" gets it's first radio airplay, the band (whose other members are played by Hohnathon Schaech, Steve Zahn, and Ethan Embry) is introduced to its major label manager (played by Hanks) and joins a summer tour of stars.
What follows is an hour and a half of contrived concert footage (How many times to we hear the theme song? I lost count around 20.) and on-the-road montage scenes.
Then suddenly (oh yeah, the plot!) the personality conflicts and girl troubles hinted at in the opening scenes come barrelling through the frame just in time for the credits to roll.
As a director, Hanks needs to work on his foreshadowing. There is no subtlety in the groundwork laid for the plot developments in the last 10 minutes.
But it must be said, the man knows his audience. "Forest Gump" fans will love the optimistic overtones of "That Thing You Do!" It may be too happy and sweet for the cynical crowd, sort of a "have a nice day" movie, but if feel good films are your fancy it would be hard to go wrong with this one.