By Andy Spletzer
Before Tom Hanks was an Oscar-winning megacelebrity, before he became a serious and only sometimes comedic actor, before he won that second Oscar, he starred in both romantic comedies (Splash) and lowbrow comedies (Bachelor Party). More lowbrow than romantic (though he did end up marrying costar Rita Wilson), Volunteers is set in 1962, back when the Peace Corps was all the rage. Hanks, speaking with an unfortunate accent meant to represent aristocratic wealth, plays a compulsive gambler, recently graduated from Yale, whose father suddenly refuses to pay his debts. To escape some particularly shady characters, he joins the Peace Corps and boards a plane headed to Southeast Asia.
For a comedy made in the '80s, there is less of a reliance on (Asian) stereotypes for punch lines than one would predict, though the movie is far from being politically sensitive. And speaking of politics, the politics of the movie are all messed up, ending up as a huge indictment of the Peace Corps as a corrupt tool of the government, despite some kind words at the end. Perhaps the biggest drawback of the movie, though, is its 107-minute running time; there's just too much emphasis on plot. Whenever costar John Candy appears, everything picks up, making you wish he was the star and the movie was about his character, Tom Tuttle from Tacoma, Washington. Ultimately, Volunteers ends up a better legacy for Candy than Hanks.