That Thing You Do!

on October 04, 1996 by Kevin Courrier
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   Light and peppy, this filmmaking debut by Tom Hanks is as harmless as a puppy dog waiting to be petted. Hanks imbues his story with some of his good-natured, crack comic timing, but what's missing from this tale of the brief rise and fall of an aspiring American rock group during the mid-'60s is some of the teeming energy of "Backbeat" or the musical drive and chemistry of "The Commitments." "That Thing You Do!" is as bland and squeaky-clean as an old episode of TV's "Happy Days." The film's era might be the America of 1964, just coming off the crest of Kennedy's New Frontier, but the setting and tone seem right out of the quaintly dull Eisenhower '50s.
   Guy Patterson (Tom Everett Scott), a young drummer from Erie, Pa., joins a group of musicians when their percussionist suffers an accident before a local contest. During the event, Guy plays the group's signature tune, "That Thing You Do," up-tempo, which leads to the song becoming a sensation and the group signing a recording contract with a manager (Hanks) who puts them on a state-fair tour while their song climbs the charts. What drama there is comes from whether the group will be able to sustain its success.
   Aside from Scott, who bares a startling resemblance to Hanks in looks and disposition, the rest of the group is undistinguished, lacking enough personality for the audience to understand how they could create such a frenzy. Although their song is evocative of the time, it sounds more like an echo of a hit than a real chart-topper. "That Thing You Do!" isn't unwatchable, but Hanks airbrushes out the kind of tensions that could create meaning in the picture. There are no drugs, no payola, not even any rehearsals; even their injured drummer, who misses out, Peter Bestian, on fame, doesn't feel any resentment. And the key subplot, about the budding love between Guy and the bandleader's girlfriend ("Stealing Beauty's" Liv Tyler), contains no strong desire. "That Thing You Do!" is likable, but never believable. Starring Tom Everett Scott, Liv Tyler, Johnathon Schaech and Tom Hanks. Directed and written by Tom Hanks. Produced by Gary Goetzman, Jonathan Demme and Ed Saxon. A Fox release. Drama. Rated PG for some language. Screened at the Toronto fest, at which it was the closing film. Running time: 105 min
Tags: Starring Tom Everett Scott, Liv Tyler, Johnathon Schaech, Tom Hanks, Directed, written by Tom Hanks. Produced by Gary Goetzman, Jonathan Demme, Ed Saxon, Fox, Drama.
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