Picks and Pans Review: Volunteers

updated 08/26/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/26/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Compulsively impudent and indiscriminately malicious, Volunteers, with Tom Hanks and John Candy as the leads, achieves what no other recent comedy has: It hits every target it takes on. Always smart and occasionally smart-alecky, it is a hip, '80s version of a Bing Crosby-Bob Hope Road movie. Like the Crosby-Hope collaborations, it doesn't let coherent plotting get in the way of an insatiable need to satirize—in this case, the Camelot days of the Kennedy era. Just out of Yale and into trouble, Hanks decides to trade places with a Thailand-bound Peace Corps volunteer to escape a gambling debt. As the 1962 paragon of prep ("I'm very rich, and I have certain rights"), Hanks is appalled to encounter among his self-righteous colleagues Tom Tuttle from Tacoma, as Candy constantly introduces himself, and newcomer Rita Wilson, who reads Profiles in Courage the way some women read Peyton Place, i.e., in bed. This unholy trinity is assigned to build a remote bridge with the help of some remote villagers. When Volunteers rhapsodizes about "doing the right thing for the right reason," it threatens to sputter. But the contrivances don't intrude because the movie seldom aspires to do anything more than amuse. Sporting an incongruous white dinner jacket in the jungle and assuming a lockjawed delivery, Hanks dashes off a wonderfully perverse Cary Grant impersonation. Candy looks as if he's having fun onscreen for the first time since Splash. Although director Nicholas (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) Meyer hasn't trafficked in comedy before, he handles it as craftily as he does the idealism of the early 1960s. He even gets fresh laughs out of Puff the Magic Dragon. Beyond its slapdash surface, Volunteers provides a public service: It demonstrates that a comedy can prove altogether entertaining without being either vulgar or pretentious. (R)

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