TMS 30 Greatest Movies: #28 The Burbs

November 19, 2007 | Comments (0) | by Chaim Witz

Title: The Burbs
Year: 1989
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Main Actors: Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Rick Ducommun, Corey Feldman, saucy redhead Courtney Gains, and yes, Brother Theodore
Ranked: Chaim Witz #2, Dave Thomas #23

A bored suburbanite (aren't all suburbanites, by definition, 'bored'?) named Ray Peterson (Hanks) takes a week off of work to lounge around in his bathrobe, take naps and feign productivity when his wife is around. However, Ray's plans of lethargy are disrupted by the arrival of some strange new neighbors, the Klopeks. And of course, who can have a peaceful vacation with Corey Feldman living next door? Soon after the arrival of the Klopeks, the old guy down the street goes missing. The fact that the Klopeks live in a decrepit old house that frequently emits weird noises immediately casts them under suspicion. Your classic case of racial profiling. Going against the advice of his wife, Ray teams up with a couple of other neighbors, the chubby and neurotic Art (Ducommun) and clearly insane Rumsfield (Dern) to bring some good old fashioned vigilante justice to their once peaceful suburban streets.

Reasons This Movie Kicks Ass
Tom Hanks has certainly had sexier starring vehicles. If 'Saving Private Ryan' is his Bentley and 'Big' is his Land Rover*, then 'The Burbs' is his first car, an oversized, two-tone Chevy Caprice Classic that he drove until it would drive no further. Sure it wasn't fancy, and the A/C was spotty at best, but dammit if he didn't love that thing to death. He put over 200K miles on that bad boy. He lost his virginity in the back seat. That car smelled like hope, ambition and day-old Wendy's. That car is The Burbs.

As a comedy, The Burbs isn't the funniest movie you'll ever see. It's not really 'funny ha ha' per se. More of the 'stroking your beard with a knowing smile' funny. And as a horror movie it isn't particularly frightening. In fact, if you actually admit to being scared by it, you would be mocked and teased relentlessly. Pussy.

So what makes it so good? Hard to say. It's just got a certain unassuming 'feel' to it that makes it eminently watchable. The characters are bizarre and eccentric, the set pieces (the neighborhood looks oddly like Wisteria Lane) are simple yet effective, and there is no shortage of classic one-liners. It's very Twilight Zone-esque. I say this never having watched 'The Twilight Zone'. Plus, it has Rick Docommun in a prominent role. For my money, the man is the Brando of our generation.

Monster Role
Bruce Dern as the bat shit crazy Nam' vet gives a performance that is arguably the greatest thing ever filmed on celluloid. This lone performance solidified his permanent place in my Top 5 Actors list. No, I'm serious. I rented 'The Glass House' just because he was in it. He delivers his lines with panache, the perfect blend of pent up anger and dry wit. Don't believe me? Try reading a few of these Rumsfield quotes, taken completely out of context and without explanation, and try not to pump your fist enthusiastically.

"Smells like their cooking a god damned cat over there."

"'Bout a nine on the tension scale there, Reub."

" That really burns my ass."

"Oh-ho! Hans! A fine Christian name. Hans Christian Anderson! What are you, Catholic?"

"Walter. I know you're in there. That scum-sucking, barking rat of yours has just taken his last dump on my lawn. I find one more- just one- and I'm gonna catch him and staple his ass shut."

"Don't you make a move sonny. I was eighteen months in the bush and I could snap your neck in a heartbeat."

Ray Peterson: Night vision goggles? What's next, we bug their phones?
Mark Rumsfield: That can be arranged.

Make Your Weiner Tingle Moment
Like I said, this ain't a laugh-a-minute Judd Apatow flick my friends. It's a collection of mildly amusing ones that slowly build in momentum, eventually climaxing into a tsunami of entertainment. You know people that say they don't like baseball because 'nothing happens'? These people lack patience and book smarts. These people would probably not like 'The Burbs' either. It's a comedy of subtlety and wisdom.

That said, I love how every scene where Art (Ducommun) walks into Ray's house he just helps himself to whatever food is in the fridge, whether it's ribs or pancakes (sometimes both at the same time). And the scene where the Petersons and the Rumsfields bring brownies over to the Klopeks to welcome them to the neighborhood is one for the ages. The look on Hanks face when he has to eat the sardine on top of the pretzel is as dramatic as any scene that he had as the AIDS guy in 'Philadelphia'. I'm appalled this scene hasn't been included in those clips packages they show at the Oscars each year. Maybe I'll start a petition to have that included. Just as soon as the Writer's Strike is over.

Watch this movie if you like...
Bathrobes, Vietnam, Corey Feldman in his prime, Tom Hanks when he still had street cred, baseball, pancakes, ribs.

*'Bosom Buddies' would be this vehicle.