That Thing You Do! (1996)

It’s strange. Even with the involvement of the ever charming Tom Hanks as the director and writer, and a film that features him as a prominent supporting character amidst a slew of up and coming young stars (including Charlize Theron), “That Thing You Do!” is still just an average movie. It’s simply nineties mediocrity. It’s never a remarkable musical comedy, nor is it abysmal. It’s merely a movie you watch and never plan to re-visit again unless you’re absolutely bored.

“That Thing You Do!” visited nineties prominence briefly with it’s catchy title song “That Thing You Do!” but the single itself never quite caught on and became a bonafide nineties juggernaut. Because like the movie, the song is nice, but nothing you’ll ever want to re-visit ever again. “That Thing You Do!” doesn’t aim to tell the story of a legendary band. Instead it takes the rare story of the one hit wonder band, the group of performers who love music that turned out a massive hit song and decided that one was really enough for any of them. “That Thing You Do!” works hard at capturing the spirits and innocence of the decade, but stills like just another nineties movie with a group of hipster pop stars. “That Thing You Do!” is basically about a group of pop stars who aspire to become huge chart toppers in the throes of the Beatles surge in the sixties, and stumble on to fame. Everything about the group of the band mates is about stumbling in to a serendipity. Johnathon Schaech is Jimmy, the lead singer and guitarist for his group he and his friend tag as the “One-Ders” for an up and coming battle of the bands.

When their drummer accidentally breaks his arm (a young Giovanni Ribisi), they hire aspiring Jazz drummer Guy to fill in. During their performance, Jimmy and Guy have a debate about the direction of their performance of their song “That Thing You Do!” Defying Jimmy’s insistence that the song be a love ballad, Guy speeds up the tempo, and a hit pop song is born from sheer accident. From there on in, “That Thing You Do!” tries its best to bring us in to the experience of this rising pop band and their experiences with their manager Mr. White, as played by Tom Hanks. Much of their confrontations with attempts to stretch their fifteen minutes of rock notoriety in to more hit songs is entertaining but never quite compelling, as Hanks can never seem to decide if he wants a clear and stern look at the grappling with stardom, or the comedy about a bunch of accidental celebrities.

The performances, for the most part, adequate, with the most interesting turn belonging to Tom Everett Scott as Guy, the drummer with the sunglasses shtick who finds he’d much rather be an artist of substance, even if it means he loses fame. “That Thing You Do!” is pretty much about the trade up, in the end. You can either be rich and famous, or an artist of substance and relevance. You just can’t have both. “That Thing You Do!” is one of the more inoffensive and happy go lucky movies of the nineties, but it’s also one of the most forgettable cinematic efforts. Tom Hanks directorial effort is a decent film overall, but nothing that would ever inspire to re-visit again and again with fondness. “That Thing You Do!” falls just shy of being a great film, and that’s thanks to the lack of interesting characters and its knack for being just an average musical comedy that doesn’t re-invent the wheel.