Picks and Pans Review: Big

updated 06/06/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/06/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

What a treat to turn to the more modestly scaled pleasures of this effervescent comedy. Tom Hanks brings sheer comic inspiration to his role as a 12-year-old boy trapped in a man's body. Okay, there have been three so-so movies this year alone with the same child-man plot (Like Father, Like Son, Vice Versa and 18 Again). Big is different; Big is potently funny, provocative and romantic. How's that for three differences? When the plot wheezes, Hanks works like a walking tank of oxygen. Director Penny (Jumpin' Jack Flash) Marshall is slow getting started, meaning she dawdles about bringing Hanks into the plot. First we meet the kid (David Moscow) and the kid's best friend (the beguiling Jared Rushton). Then we see them play computer games and moon over girls they're too shrimpy to attract. At a local carnival, the kid plunks a coin into an old wishing machine and wishes to be big. Presto. The next morning he wakes up as Hanks (now we're cooking), scares himself in the mirror and drives his mom to chase him out of the house with a knife. He runs away to New York and gets a job at a toy company run by Robert Loggia, who shares Hanks's enthusiasm for new gadgets. After rising swiftly from computer operator to vice president, Hanks has an affair with a hard-edge, hotly sexy career woman, played with nervy charm by Elizabeth (About Last Night...) Perkins. I'm skipping some transitions here. Hanks doesn't. Without ever breaking character with the kid inside, he is both affecting and hilarious. Watch him go berserk with joy getting his first paycheck (a paltry $187 a week) or placing his eager hand for the first time on a woman's breast. The lady exec is charmed by his boyish innocence. Watch Hanks's endearing confusion later when he confesses his real identity to Perkins and tells her he misses his family and wants to go home. "I'm a child," he says. "Who isn't?" says she, assuming Hanks is pulling the usual male ploy to avoid marriage. There is sass and sharp intelligence in the Gary Ross-Anne Spielberg (yes, she is his sister) screenplay, which raises challenging questions about what a woman looks for in a man these days. That's why the the sappy, out-of-character ending is such a letdown. But this is close to nitpicking. Big is big comedy news—that rare film that can tickle the funny bone and touch the heart. (PG)

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