"That Thing You Do" is corny, slight and entirely too cute to be real -- but it's everything you want a one-hit wonder to be.
The movie is a happy, engaging story about a one-hit wonder, the Wonders, directed and written by that many-hit wonder Tom Hanks.
His first directing bout is a funny, frothy look at a little band from Erie, Pa., that hits it big with a single called "That Thing You Do." That's the whole story. It won't change your life, but it's lovable.
Heading the list of attractive young stars in this flick is Tom Everett Scott as the smart and charming Guy, whose work in his dad's appliance store doesn't keep him from practicing on his drum set in the basement for hours each night, playing along with his favorite jazz records. When a local band loses its incompetent drummer just before a talent contest, he joins the group, peps up their signature number and ends up sparking a craze.
The "One-ders" (which everyone comically pronounces O-NEED-ers until they re-spell their name) catch on fast. Johnathon Schaech is the moody lead singer whose girlfriend, played by Liv Tyler of "Stealing Beauty," is a sweetheart who deserves better.
Steve Zahn is very funny as the sarcastic guitarist desperate for a date. Ethan Embry is the bass player who just wants to join the Marines. And the actors really are doing the playing, after weeks of intensive coaching and rehearsal.
Hanks has a secondary role as the band's bullish manager. Look also for cameos from pop heartthrob Chris Isaak, Rita Wilson (Hanks' wife) as a waitress, Kevin Pollak and Peter Scolari.
"That Thing" is swimming in nostalgia for the early '60s, a time when the Beatles had set the stage for success for any adorable band with a catchy tune. And "That Thing You Do," by New York songwriter Adam Schlesinger (who beat out more than 300 competitors to land his song in the movie), is definitely catchy. Fans go wild. Girls scream. Boys snap their fingers. And the world is bright and hopeful.
One could quarrel with the shallow plot or the paper-thin love story. In this film, no one is seriously abused by the record company. No one is found dead in an alley or becomes an alcoholic. Despite minor tensions, nothing really terrible happens. Hanks brings you to the edge of a potential crisis and then whisks you off the cliff with a joke. But that sweet vacuousness is why most people are going to groove to "That Thing You Do."
'That Thing You Do'
Starring Tom Everett Scoyy, Liv Tyler and Tom Hanks
Directed by Tom Hanks
Released by 20th Century Fox
Rated: PG (Kissing and martinis)
Sun score: ***
Pub Date: 10/04/96