The Movie Dude: Remember when Tom Hanks was funny?

Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson star in “Volunteers.”

Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson star in “Volunteers.”

Starring: Tom Hanks, John Candy and Rita Wilson

Rated: R for language, some violence and brief nudity

Running time: 107 minutes

Released: 1985

Tom Hanks is one of this generation’s most revered actors. With films like “Forrest Gump,” “Philadelphia,” “Saving Private Ryan,” and “The Green Mile,” his body of work speaks for itself. The movies I just mentioned are all contemporary classics and more importantly, really good movies.

However. And there’s always a however. If you remember a little decade known as the ’80s, you’ll recall a different kind of Tom Hanks who starred in some real classic movies.

They helped define the decade as well as the early stages of his career.

Movies like “Bachelor Party,” “The Money Pit,” “The Man With One Red Shoe” and the incomparable, “Turner & Hooch.” I grew up watching them and will continue to do so until the end of my days. However.

And there’s always a however.

There’s a little gem I failed to mention and that’s often overlooked when it comes to Hanks’ early career, “Volunteers.” It’s a screwball comedy that deserves a place in the pantheon of classic ’80s movies.

It’s the 1960s and Hanks plays Lawrence Bourne III, a rich snob who’s about to graduate from Yale. He has a little hiccup though that comes in the form of a $28,000 debt that will involve dire consequences if he doesn’t pay it off.

When he’s unable to raise the money, he thinks fast and switches places with his roommate, a member of the Peace Corps who’s about to board a plane bound for Southeast Asia in order to aid a small village.

Snooty Lawrence is a fish out of water among all of the do-gooders and the fact that he’s so blasé about their cause creates many funny moments.

His character can be summed up with a quote of his from the film, “It’s not that I can’t help these people. It’s just I don’t want to.” And when delivered in Hanks’ deadpan style, it’s hilarious.

Aboard the flight Lawrence meets the film’s other leads, John Candy as Tom Tuttle from Tacoma, Washington and his future real-life wife, Rita Wilson as Beth Wexler (the two reportedly fell in love on the set of this movie).

Almost immediately they dislike each other, and again, it’s very funny.

Once they reach their destination, the Peace Corps’ plan is to build a bridge that crosses the river, allowing the villagers to reach the other side. There’s only one problem — the villagers don’t want it.

But since when has that stopped anyone from doing anything?

The villagers aren’t the problem, though. The problems are the opium dealer, the communist party and the United States army who all want the bridge for their own personal gain.

To make matters worse, Lawrence and Tom get embroiled in those groups and are both forced, for various reasons, to make sure the bridge gets built in a timely fashion, despite the consequences the villagers might face.

It sounds serious, but it in fact leads to more comedic mayhem, especially when Tom Tuttle of Tacoma, Washington learns about brainwashing.

It’s slightly more involved than that, as it should be, and it all leads up to an over-the-top (in a good way), swashbuckling-like finale where Lawrence may or may not discover that he actually has a conscience.

What makes Tom Hanks so great in these types of movies is that he’s such a great actor. I know that I’m stating the obvious there, but let me explain.

What I mean is that he was a great actor before society as a whole recognized him as such. If Hollywood knew what they had back then, the ’80s would have been a lot less funny because Tom Hanks vehicles like “The Money Pit” would’ve never been made.

Case and point, Tom Hanks has made a few comedies over the last 20 years, but have they been anything like the ones he had in the ’80s? The answer is a resounding no.

I’m not saying they’ve been bad, because I enjoy his movies very much, but once the word got out that Hanks was a force to be reckoned with on the silver screen, his screwball comedy career went bye-bye.

It’s unfortunate, but it’s also one of the reasons that the ’80s stands out as a great decade for film.

Bottom line, “Volunteers” is a great example of what I’ve been getting at this whole time. It’s funny, zany and you get to see a side of Tom Hanks that you haven’t seen for a good 20 years. Long live the ’80s.

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The Movie Dude, Joe Altomere of Fort Myers, grew up in his parents’ video store in Plantersville, Texas. He owns close to 2,000 DVDs and Blu-ray discs and considers that only the start of his collection. E-mail him at jaltomere@yahoo.com.

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