Welcome back to to our latest series, Tom Hanks: Very Serious Actor, where we explore the earlier, funnier, far less severe roles in Hanks’s career. You know, before he decided he needed to either have a message, or Meg Ryan, or make a bazagillion dollars (Angels And Demons). His early career reflects a less kind, less gentle, and decidedly more acerbic and frequently hilarious brand of Hanks, one that the modern viewer has likely either forgotten entirely, or (gasp!) never experienced. Today, we shall examine a seminal work in his library and one of my favorites — 1984’s Bachelor Party.
Bachelor Party stars Hanks as Rick Gassko, a irreverent, wiseass school bus driver who gets engaged to the girl of his dreams, Debbie (Tawny Kitaen). Of course, his friends decide to throw him the wildest bachelor party possible, despite Debbie’s nervousness about the affair, knowing what guys get up to during such bacchanals. It’s a fairly uncomplicated plot, with some x-factors thrown in for extra comic relief — Debbie’s parents, the WASPiest of WASPS, hate Rick, as does her ex-boyfriend Cole (Robert Prescott, who between this role and Kent in Real Genius had the market on blond douchebag pretty much cornered in the mid-’80s).
That’s the basic setup, and it doesn’t get much simpler. The rest of the movie consists of Rick and his band of halfwit friends as they go to increasingly ridiculous lengths to give Rick the greatest bachelor party ever. Taking over a massive suite at a swanky hotel, the story bounces around dizzily, careening off of hookers, massive quantities of drugs, a male strip club, crossbows, an Indian pimp, Debbie’s dull, dry wedding shower, a belly dancer and an honest-to-god donkey. It’s an all-or-nothing approach with results that vary wildly from missing completely, to completely hilarious. In the wake of the modern era of guy comedies — The Hangover is probably the current gold standard, but Old School and Dodgeball are similar tonal entries — it’s hard for the modern viewer to grasp just how insane Bachelor Party was when it was released. It pulled few punches and was, however briefly, a heavyweight contender for ribald comedy masterpiece.
The acting is mostly average-to-painfully overdone, with the notable exception being, of course, Hanks. He’s yet again a complete polar opposite of his current persona, a wild and crazy guy with little inhibition and no tact, yet still manages to be affable and adorable. It’s not hard to see why a woman would swoon over him — he’s just sweet and wickedly funny enough to give him some serious mojo. His friends are mostly a group of drunken howling baboons, but Hanks owns the movie. Sure, there are some great lines spread around (the title to this post being one of them), but the comedic load is squarely on Hanks’s shoulders, with the main assistance coming from Prescott as the aggravating and obsessed Cole.
Of course, it is also a quintessential ’80s movie, meaning it’s hilariously dated. The outfits, particularly for the women, are hilariously awful — bright, garish, and hideous. The music is prototypical ’80s craptronica, and the dancing… oh, Lord, the dancing will make you alternate between shuddering and howling. It’s filled with those sort of bizarre ’80s movie whackadoo ideas — the idea that five dudes get together for a bachelor party and then dance it up, jumping up and down on couches and writhing upright like poisoned salmon is so perfectly, outlandishly symptomatic of the times. Of course, in the ’80s people ate that shit up for some reason, which is why some of Bachelor Party needs to be taken in context. Taken out of context, there are parts that are staggeringly stupid. Times have changed, even for debauchery-filled sex comedies. Films like The Hangover feature consistently better acting, and while its events were completely insane, they were somehow more believable. There’s nothing believable in Bachelor Party, but then, that’s part of its quirky charm.
It’s also what made Hanks so damned compelling back then — his ability to make the inherently ridiculous completely enjoyable. Most of his early films were nothing more than exercises in goofy madcap silliness, with simple plots and frequently generic casts. Yet he had a knack for making the absurd and juvenile seem charming and absorbing. Bachelor Party is a classic comedy — not because of its brilliant writing or its clever jokes, but because Hanks was such a comedic force that he could transcend the weaknesses and banalities and make the movie great.
TK writes about music and movies. He enjoys playing with dogs, raising the dead, and tacos. You can email him here.