I know this is going to sound incredibly self-serving but hear me out. This month’s Netflix pick is VOLUNTEERS. Yes, my partner David Isaacs and I wrote it but that’s not why I’m recommending it – well, not the only reason.
I always thought the movie was good but uneven. And there were artistic decisions made that I didn’t (and still don’t) agree with. Breaking the fourth wall for the sake of a joke is the one that really sticks in my craw. For the sake of one laugh you completely undercut the jeopardy of the third act.
And the tone is very inconsistent. There’s a bridge building sequence that is extremely well done but looks like a National Geographic film. And then a chase scene through the drug lord’s lair that is some of the cheesiest slapstick this side of the Disney Channel (again, not my call).
So far you must be thinking, this is his pick? All he’s done is rip the film. Again, bear with me.
Recently I decided to screen it. I hadn’t actually watched the movie front-to-back in maybe three home video formats. And I must say, even with its faults, I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. I like it much better now than I did when it came out in 1985. Usually it's the opposite. Usually I see something I remember really being proud of at the time and go "Jesus! What the hell were we thinking? This is the dog's breakfast!" Not so with VOLUNTEERS.
First off, since it’s a period piece set in the early 60s, it doesn’t look dated the way other movies of the 80s do. There’s no “look at those pants we used to wear” and “did we really think Boy George was cool?” moments. And the comic style is different from today – much more reliance on witty dialogue and storytelling than “block comedy scenes”, “trailer moments”, and shock humor.
But it’s kind of refreshing. Objectively speaking, there are a lot of funny lines that still work. And the premise remains very solid. Tom Hanks as a preppy asshole joins the Peace Corps to avoid a huge gambling debt. In the process he gets involved with wide-eyed idealists, a foreign culture that doesn’t want our help, the CIA, Chinese war lords, Communists, and the looming Viet Nam War. It all builds to a loose parody of BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. Along the way there’s also romance, brainwashing, political satire, adventure, send-ups of classic films, sex, and big 60s hits like “Wolverton Mountain.”
It’s got a terrific cast. Tom Hanks and John Candy are hilarious and if you love Gedde Wataabe, this is the picture to see!
Like I said, I was surprised.
If everyone on the planet rents or buys this movie I will still probably make less than seven cents, so this isn’t a ploy to fill my coffers. I just think it merits your attention or second look.
Ads for movies today like to include endorsements and raves from critics. So if I may be allowed to do the same…
“VOLUNTEERS… it’s better than I thought.”
“The political incorrectness still holds up!”
“Real good in parts!”
“In the right hands this movie will make a great re-make!”
“Way funnier than THE MAN WITH ONE RED SHOE”!
“Rita Wilson is half-dressed and sweaty in much of this film!”
“If you don’t like it you can send it back”.