Despite how much the world loves Tom Hanks, not every Hanks vehicle was an instant success or has enjoyed a lasting legacy.
Despite how much the world loves Tom Hanks, not every Hanks vehicle was an instant success or has enjoyed a lasting legacy. Of late, his films are sincere, message-driven dramas, but we all know he got his start with cheesy ’80s comedies. And that was even before he paired up with Meg Ryan. Fun-loving movies like Turner & Hooch and Splash are fond callbacks to the actor’s early days. But for all the love thrown to smash hits like Big, there’s little left for efforts like The Money Pit. An ’80s teaming if there ever was one, this time Hanks meet his comedic match in Shelley Long. A great get for Long, who otherwise was struggling to take her “Cheers” success to the big screen beyond Troop Beverly Hills, the movie riffs on home renovation and relationship strife in a hilarious way, bringing more depth to a comedy of marriage manners.
This comedic debacle begins when partners Walter (Hanks), a lawyer for several bands, and Anna (Long), a professional violinist, are kicked out of their New York apartment because its owner, Anna’s ex-husband, Max Beissart (Alexander Godunov) (it’s a long story), returns to town. With options few and far between, a mansion outside the city seems like the best choice – and it’s unbelievably cheap. So cheap it’s too good to be true. The couple move in only to find the house falling apart around them – stairs giving way, faucets full of brown goop and ovens projectile vomiting roast turkeys. Needless to say, it’s a strain on their relationship. Walter had to borrow $200,000 to buy the house and now has to pay contractors to rebuild it from the inside out. The trouble is these contractors claim the job will be done in “two weeks,” repeating it like a mantra for months. Add to this stress the return of Max, Anna’s conductor intent on winning her back, and it seems like Walter and Anna are fighting a losing battle on all fronts.
It can be difficult to see a non-classic Hanks movie as anything but a fairly rote comedy maintaining the actor’s near-constant employment. Anything less than Big might be viewed as Hanks-lite, lacking in resonance and laughs. This is not the case with The Money Pit. Like Joe Versus the Volcano, it was also executive produced by Steven Spielberg. Helmed by Richard Benjamin, director of My Favorite Year and Mermaids, the film relies on its visual comedy first and foremost. Although Hanks and Long are the stars, the mansion serves as a third character, bent on stealing every scene. Impressively executed sequences abound, from the giant staircase collapsing to a Rube Goldberg-esque sequence of mishaps that ultimately dismantles all of the scaffolding around the house, yet leaves Hanks’ Walter unscathed.
Little attention is paid to secondary characters, most of them relegated to stand in stereotypes. There are, however, some funny moments when the workers more or less move in permanently. Walter is affectionately heckled by some carpenters; and, in a hilarious scene, Anna has her own personal human medicine cabinet who hands her toothpaste and reminds her that she’s running low on birth control pills. Long doesn’t get to play much comedy, though. Her character provides the emotional reactions to their situation and adds marriage drama to their list of problems. Hanks gets most of the one liners and the physical humor throughout. Stressed out to the point of a mental break, his Walter slowly loses his composure and responds to obstacles with uncontrollable, manic laughter. It’s a no-holds barred goofy performance that fits right in with Hanks comedy classics.
Roger Ebert made no attempt to hide his dislike of The Money Pit, arguing that “one gag does not a comedy make,” and Hanks himself later said, “Some parts of that are absolutely hilarious, but, for the most part, it just doesn’t cut it.” To be fair, the film is low on plot and heavy on sight gags, focusing on the humor of the setup and letting that carry the film. That’s hardly a reason to write off a classic Hanks ’80s comedy. You’re only depriving yourself of some great laughs and a valuable cautionary tale about too-good-to-be-true property deals.