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The One-Line Summary: Ray Peterson (Tom Hanks) lives in a nice cul-de-sac with his wife and young son, enjoying the comforts of their tiny community until his new neighbors, the Klopeks, arrive, living in mystery, rarely coming out and keeping their dilapidated house in a shroud of intrigue that has Ray and a few other neighbors thinking something dark and nefarious if going on, especially when some odd clues start popping up, like leg bones, which makes life a bit more strange out in the ‘burbs.
The Two-Line Blurb: An odd little comedy, The ‘Burbs feels like a stage play performed on the street as the entire production takes place in one very small neighborhood, giving the movie a sort of claustrophobic hyperness like a submarine in danger film. With Hank’s kinetic comedic energy and a well-cast group of peculiar neighbors all in on the steady mounting worry that there is a murdering psychopathic family living among the good people, there is a lot of fun to be had in this Joe Dante directed cult classic that doesn’t guide reach its potential, never being as sharp as it could for satire nor zany enough to be slapstick.
The Three-Line Set-up: The whacky neighbor trope is an old one and The ‘Burbs exploits that with tongue firmly in cheek as our hero, Ray, just wants to enjoy a nap in the warm summer afternoon, but can’t help but join his friend Art (Rick Ducommun) and Mark (Bruce Dern) when they witness Mr. Kolpek arrive home one night dragging a large black bag out of his trunk and then beat with a garden hoe, further firing their dark imaginations. More strange behavior follows, and when Walter (Gale Gordon), another next-door neighbor goes missing and only his toupee is left behind, the boys go into overdrive, making plans to expose the murderers living among them. They decide to jump the fence and find the bodies.
The Four-Line Moment: That plan fails spectacularly as Ray, digging with a pick-axe looking for Walter’s body, strikes a gas line and is trapped in the house when it explodes but since this is comedy, stumbles from the wreckage comically singed and smoking. With police and fire crews now on the scene, Art is still convinced the Klopeks are killers and that when the smoke clears, police are going to find remains in the husk of the still burning building. Ray, bandaged and stressed has had enough and has an explosion of his own berating Art and the others in front of the neighborhood, claiming it was never the Klopeks who were the lunatic, but them instead. It’s a brilliant piece of comic unraveling on Hanks part and shines a sun-strength beam of light on the film’s message with some much needed razor sharp wit (even if poor Ray is wrong).
The Five-Word Review: Fun but just off target.