Director: Roger Spottiswoode
Writer: Dennis Shryack, Michael Blodgett, Daniel Petrie, Jr., Jim Cash, and Jack Epps, Jr.; story by
Cinematographer: Adam Greenberg
by Jon Cvack
I recall seeing this movie cover near as long as I can remember, with Tom Hanks next to that awesome and ugly dog (a Dogue de Bordeaux, FYI), and for all the animal buddy movies from throughout the decade (Beethoven, Dunston Checks In, Homeward Bound, etc.) and over twelve years of cinephilia I’ve just never been in the mood, thinking it’d be god awful, never giving Hanks the benefit of the doubt that his performance would carry this entire film, soaring above any silliness I expected.
The story takes place in a Steinbeck’s neck of the woods, in the fictional Cypress Beach in Monterey California near Cannery Row. This was particularly exciting to watch given that I was reading "Tortilla Flat" at the time, getting to witness what became of the area that Steinbeck had described countless times prior. Scott Turner (Tom Hanks) has grown bored with small town police work, getting ready to hit the big leagues over in Sacramento, preparing to hand the torch off to the supremely type-casted and everyone’s favorite cop Reginald Veljohnson playing Detective David Sutton. They meet up with an old fishermen, Amos Reed (John McIntire), who spouts off conspiracy theories about how the new ice factory next to his houseboat is participating in some shady dealings, which is further confirmed when a ziplock bag full of thousands of dollars washes up shore. It’s here that Hooch (Beasley the Dog) is introduced as a begrimed, incessantly drooling dog that loves to mess with Scott and his OCD tendencies. When Amos is found murdered, Scott decides to take in the animal, convinced that it might know something about the killing, discovering that while the dog is capable of destroying his entire home, he can also feel affection for it, aided by assistance from the local veterinarian Emily Carson (Mare Winningham), who quickly becomes Turner’s love interest.
The story is designed in such a way as to keep your focus, as though pulled out - and, from my recollection, mentioned - in the countless screenwriting books that promise you million dollar formulas. Everything seems to serve the purpose of getting these two opposing personality types together. And while most other performers would have allowed this move to fall flat, Hanks is such a powerhouse, capable of making even the most passing scene entertaining that for all the tropes and formulaic twists and turns, the story never stales. It’d almost be easier to list the scenes that didn’t work than for those that did, everything from having a stake out with Hooch in the car, improvising line after line of ball busting toward the dog, to his initial reaction upon getting back home while out shopping for dog food and toys, discovering his meticulously cleaned and finely furnished apartment completely destroyed - Hanks made me believe that he without a doubt to learned to care for and admire the dog. Hanks has that rare ability to make every character he plays feel completely real and pure, somehow balancing between charm and humor, as though he’s performing and speaking directly to us. We know where the story is going, and yet his performance alone is enough for the entire story to feel original and fresh.
However - and SPOILER ALERT - I was definitely not expecting the ending, in which Hooch takes a bullet for Turner, after discovering that the Police Chief Howard Hyde (Craig T. Nelson) has actually been in on the money-laundering, drug-smuggling, and whatever else was going on. Allegedly, two endings were shot - one in which Hooch died and the other where he survived. Test audiences were split and they decided to go with tragedy, to which Hanks attributed for the film’s mild success. I never would have expected the dog to die in this one. I wasn't emotional so much as blown away by Hanks' ability to display such emotion, where allegedly Hanks thought about how he’d never see Beasley again once the shoot was over in order to conjure up the tears.
The fact that all it took was realizing that he’d never see his friend again to elicit such a powerful reaction doesn’t just go to show the depth of Hanks’ talent, so much as his empathy and compassion as a person. Tom Hanks is considered by many to be one of the nicest celebrities in the world . He exudes kindness and appreciation for his fans; seemingly like a genuinely good man and exceptional friend. To see a character of his go through such pain after losing his best friend was incredible, especially as you snap out of the scene, realizing that while perhaps maybe not wiping the tears away, you were quiet and understood what he was going through - and then you realize you’re watching a buddy-dog comedy. Hanks is the type of actor that could never be replaced, as original as Jimmy Stewart, Marlon Brando, or any giant of cinema. As with any great artists, no matter the material, he connects to the individual viewer, transporting them to another world and immersing them within a believable reality, no matter how absurd the concept. I was expecting a really silly movie when I put this on. Instead, I was glad to be able to experience it later in life, with no association of youth; rather watching it with a fresh adult eye and having an even greater appreciation for what Hanks managed to achieve.
BELOW: Is he bad in any movies?
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