by Jack Sommersby
While it didn't do well at the box office and wasn't loved by nationwide critics by any stretch, it makes for a harmless time-killer.The Tom Hanks/John Candy Third World comedy Volunteers isn't nearly as funny as their previous collaboration from the year before, the wonderful Ron Howard-directed Splash, and it veers off into some awkward directions along the way, but it's still a perfectly pleasant diversion. And Hanks, who had a fairly straight leading role in Splash, is wonderfully assured here as the snootiest hero in a mainstream motion picture in recent memory -- his Lawrence Bourne III, a recent Yale graduate of 1962 from a mega-bucks family, is so quintessentially pampered it's as if he were still waiting for God to take him out of this world of clear-cut inferiors and give him his own private cloud to exist on. (His stuffy, snobbish accent suggests a man who views common everyday language as so beneath him that he's waiting for a truly exclusive one to come along.) A habitual womanizer and gambler, Lawrence winds up losing a big-stakes basketball bet and finds himself in the hole for twenty-eight-thousand dollars; he thinks his father will cough up the money, but, tired of his son's irresponsibility, he refuses, insisting that whatever the bookie's deranged henchman will do to Lawrence will teach him a valuable life lesson. Panicked, with the henchman in high-speed pursuit, Lawrence rushes to the airport where his college roommate is about to board a plane to Thailand to serve in the Peace Corps for two years; after accepting a bribe in the form of Lawrence's beautiful girlfriend and prized red convertible, the roommate agrees to swap identities, and soon Lawrence, already having endured a hellacious flight with the diarrhea-mouthed Tom Tuttle From Tacoma (Candy) and beautiful Jane (Rita Wilson) who's spurned his sexual advances, is neck-deep in humidity, jungle habitat and materialistic poverty. In other words, he's is in living Hell. And in Hanks' capable hands, the character remains, miraculously enough, quite the incorrigible son of a bitch who we're always laughing with rather than at. During the movie's opening-credit sequence, John F. Kennedy's "Do not ask what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country" televised address plays out in a backroom gambling den with Lawrence playing poker, and it's the perfect set-up for the selfish Lawrence whose worldview couldn't be more diametric -- he wants everything without giving up anything he's been handed on a silver platter. (With his diaphanous moral sense, he's a spoiled-rotten jackanapes who wears a white dinner jacket spectacularly well.)
"A Decent Hanks/Candy Diversion"
Obviously, Lawrence is a character type with a lot of trapdoors, and the deft Hanks succeeds in sidestepping every one. He's never too broad or aloof, otherwise we'd have a difficult time responding to a Lawrence who starts out only concerned for himself; and the screenwriters, Kevin Levine and David Isaacs, who also teamed up for television episodes of M*A*S*H, chart Lawrence's emotional progression with surprising dexterity -- he gradually evolves while still retaining his caustic wit. It's a plum role, with consistently amusing dialogue ("It's not that I can't help these people; it's just that, I don't want to."), and the movie would have benefited had Candy, who stole his every scene from Hanks last time out, had just as much to work with; but his character is soon captured and brainwashed by a communist army who wants a crucial bridge built as transport for their troops, and his ensuing nuttiness just doesn't play. On the other hand, another subplot, involving a corrupt general with a lucrative opium-growing enterprise who coerces Lawrence into making sure the bridge is built so as to expand distribution for his product, which pits Lawrence against another authority figure he refuses to be demure to, has its moments, especially with the man's beautiful oriental assassin with lethally sharp fingernails who Lawrence can't help putting the moves on. (Never before has Lawrence, a playboy in his former closed-off society, come across two women so impervious to his charm. Naturally, he sees them as challenges to conquer.) More ramshackle than organically sound, Volunteers isn't concerned much with plot logic and narrative, and for those looking for something more fluent, you're likely to be put off by the occasional lapses in the pacing. But director Nicholas Meyer, who managed some nicely understated humor in the science-fiction tales Time After Time and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, knows how to pinpoint the joke in a scene without overitalicizing it, and he keeps the proceedings moving amiably along. Oh, the big action sequence at the end involving the dynamiting of the bridge isn't as well staged as it could be, the running time is probably fifteen minutes too long, and B-actor Tim Thomerson's role as a duplicitous Peace Corps superior is unnecessary in adding another level of conflict to the proceedings (it's as if the moviemakers were worried there wasn't enough going on). Overall, though, the laugh quotient is more than adequate, and even in the face of peril Lawrence still has his marvelous zingers to deliver. He's the closest to a debonair-doofus Indiana Jones we're ever likely to get.Well, it's better than "The Man With One Red Shoe" that Hanks did between this and "Splash."
link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=24331&reviewer=327
originally posted: 09/08/12 12:22:03