Eye For Film >> Movies >> Volunteers (1985) Film Review
Remember when Tom Hanks did funny? The Burbs, Turner & Hooch, Bachelor Party... No? Didn't your funny bone? Well then, you probably won't remember Volunteers - a comedy cum political satire set amongst The Peace Corps in Thailand. It's standard Eighties fare (it's got John Candy in it, for Christ's sake), but despite comedic pitfalls, denser than the Indonesian jungle, the Tomster comes good.
Poor little Lawrence (Hanks) has a problem. Being massively over privileged and arrogant doesn't come into it; instead, he has made shady enemies through a penchant for gambling - so his journey begins. Escaping through a mutual switch with a friend, Yale's most snooty student finds himself in the Peace Corps, stationed in a remote village deep within the Thai peninsula.
Accompanied by the patriotic Tom Tuttle (Candy) and love interest Beth (Rita Wilson) he takes an instant dislike to his surroundings - can't adapt/won't adapt. But, with a sprinkle of feelgood fairy dust, boxes are ticked as our hero learns the error of his ways and sets out to foil a bunch of mischievous Commies.
The story carries itself at a decent pace, where said boxes may increase the predictability factor of Nicholas Meyer's film. The cast provides a much-needed boost and it's this character play that makes Volunteers more enjoyable. Lawrence's change from spoilt brat to hero of the people is played out surprisingly well, thanks to the comic talents of the man-who-will-win-Oscars. Playing it part Nice But Dim, part Errol Flynn (it's all in the eyebrows), Hanks gives the film heart. It's just a shame the picture stumbles when faced with its morality message.
Yeah, Lawrence's mean cultural naivety is a good-natured dig at the Western world's acknowledgment of Eastern traditions during the Sixties (the time in which Volunteers is set). Faced with the dastardly Red threat of a surrounding insurgent, Lawrence and his newfound Peace Corp buddies are forced to act, culminating in a barrage of action-packed high jinks, cloaking a confusing message. Why did the army want to invade the indigenous village? Why did the village need American assistance? All qualms are brushed aside as Hanks swashbuckles his way through an elaborate murder attempt and lays siege to a jungle fortress in order to get the girl.
Volunteers isn't perfect and on occasions you find yourself watching a comedy devoid of laughs. What you do have is a slight misfire, bolstered by lashings of giddy nostalgia and the talents of its cast. Candy plays his wide-eyed "Joe Americana" with motor-mouthed ease and Wilson manages to bring strength to a slightly thankless role. But it is Hanks who runs away with the picture. He may have seasoned himself and become something of a thespian mega force over the last decade, where his comedic skills appear to have rusted (read: The Ladykillers), but it is a testament to his undoubted charms that he manages to inspire even the most misplaced of pictures.
Verdict: a scattershot comedy, with a head-scratching political message, is saved by the caperesque frivolity of T. H. & Co. File it under Eighties fluff.Reviewed on: 22 Feb 2006