The ‘Burbs (1989)

The ‘Burbs (1989) – Tom Hanks

“I hate cul-de-sacs. There’s only one way out, and the people are kind of weird.”

– Vic the Garbageman

The 1980s were a generally wild time in the age of media and culture. The rather back to basics vibe of the 1970s was discarded for an extravaganza of styles and pop culture. One can almost feel a bit nostalgic for that time even if you weren’t of age or even born yet to properly take it all in, thankfully we have movies as a bite sized time capsule. Films of this time were like candy and there was a feeling they were focused on pure enjoyment factor, like enjoying a sweet ice cream sundae with no guilt whatsoever. This leads me into the wild ride of a film that is The ‘Burbs from 1989.

The ‘Burbs stars Tom Hanks in the lead role of Ray Peterson, a buttoned up dad of suburbia. It should be noted that the style of films we know Hanks for today, or rather most of the stuff he has done in a post Forest Gump (1994) world, is much different than what he was doing in the 80s and early 90s. This time period marked a plethora of kooky comedies and popcorn fun flicks with The ‘Burbs sitting right in the middle of that time period.

You get a little bit of everything here. Naturally it is a comedy at face value but you also have dashes of thriller, horror and even social commentary sprinkled in. I would even go as far as to say that The ‘Burbs is practically the 1980’s own version of a proper Twilight Zone episode with a few ingenious twists of course. I say this of course because similar to the 60s when the latter television show aired the 1980s were still in the midst of The Cold War with all the social paranoias still attached and bubbling in some people’s minds. Heck, even in a world where The Cold War is nearly 30 years in the past that same paranoia to “different” whether it be in people, things or occurrences is still present in todays world. Maybe we just can’t help it and as humans our natural curious nature leads to suspicion of what we can’t easily explain or understand. Sometimes those fears end up being nothing at all, once we understand better, though sometimes our fears our substantiated and we are proven right in our ill feelings. The ‘Burbs is a good look into that way of thinking and delivers quite the yarn in our journey to the final revelation.

Ray Peterson is a regular and ordinary guy home for a week long vacation in the height of any ordinary and regular summertime. Time off from work would call for time away from home and a vacation out of town which his wife Carol (Carrie Fisher) would hope for. Ray isn’t so keen to pack up for a family trip though. He’d rather just spend a quiet week at home and doesn’t think there should be anything wrong with that. This quiet time though is quickly upended though as we are plunged into the movie alongside Ray with the suspicious happenings next door at the Klopek residence. Strange noises, radiating light streaming out their basement windows and the hours in which these occurrences take place draw the eyes of onlookers to the dilapidated home on the block. Ray is pretty nonplussed with these bumps in the night and only starts to buy into it as he chats with his next door neighbor Art Weingartner (Rick Ducommun) who is practically a mad conspiracist by trade in his free time. Joining in on their wacky and harebrained musings is the brash army veteran Lt. Mark Rumsfield (Bruce Dern).

From this point on Ray’s fervor to stay home is less fueled by innocent yearnings to quietly relax and more-so by a mad quest for answers much to Carol’s chagrin. A covert visit to see how the other half lives leads to a wonderfully cringe-tastic and amusing evening as the neighbors are “entertained” by the Klopek family. The interior of their abode not being any more welcoming than the outside including eerie photo frames with the store bought photo still left in and refreshments that are less than refreshing. This welcome wagon visit does nothing to dampen the growing paranoias of Ray, Art and Mark. The three begin plotting a mission to break in and see if they can find or perhaps even “dig-up” the Klopek’s secrets, and expose them for the parasites they believe them to be in their quiet and safe slice of suburban life.

Naturally things don’t go as planned or nearly as smooth as these grown men would wish them to and the minutes begin ticking down for them to find the answers they’re seeking or admit defeat. Rooting them on from the sidelines is the slightly dimwitted but good natured teen Ricky Butler (Corey Feldman). These men’s wild escapades are like a blockbuster summer feature to him as he haphazardly cheers them on each step of the way. As the light fades to dusk and the fear and it seems all hope of discovery are lost the truth comes out in a rather surprising and satisfying way. I really admire the film for having such a nice “gotcha” moment thrown in at the end as you begin to wonder if that was all there is after all. Instead of an ending of pathos we get a bonkers reveal that holds to convention and is worthy of a film this outlandish in its premise. This is a film for all the tin foil hat wearing conspiracy theorists who desperately desire to be right at least once.

Final Grade – B+ (come for the shenanigans, stay for the inception of Tom Hanks watching Mr. Rogers a good 30 years before It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019).)

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