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Young up and coming lawyer Walter Fielding (Tom Hanks) and his classical musician girlfriend, Anna Crowley (Shelley Long), have to leave their sublet apartment when Anna’s ex-husband (and apartment owner) returns from Europe. Through a shady real estate agent, they buy a million dollar distress sale home for super cheap, but come to find out why, when everything that can go wrong does. A lot.
Directed by Richard Benjamin, and at the very peak of Hanks’ career as a comedic movie star, this slapstick farce is a one-trick pony that has a few solid funny gags and an inspired performance from Hanks, but retreads the jokes far too many times, going back to the well and trying to one up itself from start to finish, leaving the characters rather flimsy and the plot as rickety as the house in the film. Still, in the right frame of mind, there is some fun to be had, and the chemistry between Hanks and Long (who was honing her comedy chops on Cheers at the time), is really strong, teasing as to what a better script might have done, though the film never quite reaches the screwball comedy classic it tries to be.
This moment is about the breaking point, and it begins the very first time they try to open the door to their new home, which falls right out of its frame. This is followed by a cacophony of escalating household disasters that sees their beautiful main staircase tumble to pieces, pipes filled with a sickly gunk, and much more. The two are not swayed though and believe that each episode will be the last, committed to making the place their home.
One evening, while dinner is in the oven and Anna prepares for a bath (which needs to be filled with pails of water), Walter sits in the kitchen with the paper as he waits for the water to heat. He flips on the light switch, which would seem safe enough, but in this house of horrors means anything but as the box pops, sending a river of electric fire traveling along the kitchen walls, exploding anything plugged in. It finally ends at the stove, and now singed and blackened by smoke and fire, Walter heads up to Anna with the last pail of water, which he dumps into the tub. The tub promptly busts through the floor and shatters on the hardwood below in a splatter of porcelain and a shower of water. Looking down through the tattered gap, Anna and Walter stare in bewilderment before Walter finally loses it and lets out an epic stream of pent-up rage-laughter that signals Walter’s departure from sanity in this madhouse he has found himself trapped within.
It’s a ridiculous moment but one that is now a classic as Hanks absolutely unleashes the funny, his outburst as chaotic as the mess of a house his character is stuck in. What makes this doubly good though is Long, who stands right next to him, straight-faced, eyeing him with a kind of detached curiosity at his obvious breakdown. While the film goes of the rails as it races to its end, this inspired bit of lunacy is a masterstroke, allowing someone in the movie to finally let go and finally react to what’s happening all around them. It’s endlessly watchable and a great movie moment.