Tom Hanks

updated 12/26/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/26/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

He is a kindly imp, a modest, good-looking guy who lets you know he can probably handle more stuff than you might think, and if he'd been the boy next door, the girl next door might never have left home. Men like him, too, because he looks like a hang-out kind of guy, and he wouldn't steal their best girl, almost certainly. To kids, he's the dream big brother, the one who always knew how to fix the life-threatening flat on their Schwinn. The prescient spotted his charm in 1980, when he and co-star Peter Scolari pranced around in drag so they could live in an all-girl hotel in the sitcom Bosom Buddies. More came aboard in 1984, when he played an ordinary guy who chanced to fall in love with gorgeous mermaid Daryl Hannah in Splash. But it wasn't until 1988 that the savvy competence of Tom Hanks, and his likableness and believability, became certified.

This year, Hanks, 32, could do no wrong. Playing a 13-year-old in a 35-year-old's body in Big, the summer's smash, he was funny, which was easy, and convincing, which wasn't. When he and Robert Loggia made beautiful music dancing on a huge toy keyboard, they also made celluloid magic; the underlying sorcery was Hanks's ability to strip away imitation and become a kid again, inside a grown man. This fall his 11th film, Punchline, was deemed largely a stinker, but Hanks, as a stand-up, torn-up comic, killed 'em.

Reviewers have likened him to Cary Grant, Henry Fonda and Jack Lemmon, and his own choice for comparison isn't far off. "I'd most like to be like Jimmy Stewart," he has said. "It's the Everyman aspect." The corny line sounds genuine. "I'll look in the mirror, and if the lighting's right, think, 'This ain't bad.' At other times I look as if a squirrel has slept in my hair and as if I've been slugged in the nose." His blithe air to the contrary, life has slugged him several times. His parents divorced when he was 5. Hanks married young in 1978, divorced in 1985 and has two kids with whom he is close. Last spring, he married Rita Wilson, his co-star in the film Volunteers. "Once the infatuation wears off," he tried to explain, fumbling like Everyman, "either it's good or bad. When you find it, it's undeniable."

Well, what do you expect from a fellow whose favorite phrase is "kinda goofy"? Dan Melnick, Punchline's producer, has said that Hanks, unlike a few actors he and we know, "doesn't walk around with a sign that says LOVE ME." He doesn't have to. Onscreen, Hanks knows what he is up to and likes it. That's a quality moviegoers have always loved—in, for example, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, Jack Lemmon and the sometimes kinda goofy Jimmy Stewart.

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