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R: ARCHIVE, S: REVIEWS, D: 10/10/1996,

That Thing You Do!

Tom Hanks's writing and directing debut recalls his Oscar-acceptance speeches: heartfelt but on the corny side. Set in 1964, this rags-to-records tale chronicles the meteoric rise of a Beatle-esque band, the Wonders (as in one-hit), and their catchy single "That Thing You Do!" The archetypal band members include a high-strung lead singer (Jonathan Schaech), wise-ass guitar player (Steve Zahn), shy bassist (Ethan Embry), and nice-guy drummer (Tom Everett Scott) whose heart secretly thumps for jazz percussion and the quartet's dependable gal-pal (Liv Tyler). Hanks himself appears as the shrewd record-label Svengali who rallies the band to the top of the charts.

Like the title track's success, the film's moments of genuine humor are fleeting, as the what-are-those-crazy-kids-up-to-next momentum fades to predictable complications over swollen egos, intoxicating fame, and, of course, a pretty girl. Lacking the hip charm of The Commitments and the clever mania of Help!, this sugary wad of bubblegum pop quickly loses its flavor. At the Copley Place, the Fresh Pond, and the Circle and in the suburbs.

-- Alicia Potter