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Thursday, June 8, 2006 06:44 am

The Hanks code

Da Vinci Code isn’t the first controversial role in his career

The controversy over The Da Vinci Code began with the casting of Tom Hanks, but I suppose that is an issue only for those who read the book. Because I will never read it, I can easily accept Hanks in the role. In fact, unlike other actors who began their careers with light comedy, I can accept Hanks in any type of role. Most comedy actors, when confronted with drama, lay on the sincerity much too heavily, but Hanks always seems real. The Hanks of Saving Private Ryan is not the same Hanks of Bosom Buddies. Hanks’ long road to stardom is littered with numerous box-office failures. The initial success of Splash and Bachelor Party (both from 1984) quickly turned sour, but some of his best movies are among these duds. The spy spoof The Man with One Red Shoe (1985) is no classic, but it does compare favorably to the French original, The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe (1972). Hanks becomes the victim of a CIA prank and is mistaken for a spy. He is well cast as the clueless buffoon who is not cognizant of the surveillance on him. Critics hated it, but director Stan Dragoti achieves a small miracle by creating a level of suspense rarely found in a spoof. The Money Pit (1986) lived up to its prescient title by becoming a financial disaster. Hanks and co-star Shelley Long are a yuppie couple whose fixer-upper dream home winds up subject to more destruction than construction. The slapstick set-pieces are among the most magnificent of their type ever created. Why did it bomb? The strange and surrealistic Joe Versus the Volcano (1990) features Hanks as a morbid everyman who is diagnosed with a “brain cloud.” Rather than suffer the agony of this dreaded disease, he chucks his life and journeys to a tropical island, where he plans to jump into a live volcano. Joe is truly one of the lost gems of the last few decades. The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) remains the most maligned movie of Hanks’ career, but I am convinced that one day the world will recognize its brilliance. No movie form is more misunderstood than satire, and audiences are often baffled by the challenge. Brian De Palma veers somewhat from the book’s focus on Wall Street greed to turn the spotlight more on the exploitation of society’s racial divide. Bonfire is simply audacious and mesmerizing, and its great crime was to defy expectations.
Coming Tuesday (June 6) on DVD: Running Scared, Firewall, and Glory Road.
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