“Splash” was only Hanks’ second film role and his first lead, but he was hardly an unknown. He’d put in two seasons as the cross-dressing Kip Wilson on ABC’s “Bosom Buddies,” and probably would’ve done more had the network not sabotaged the show’s Nielsen ratings by shifting it all over the schedule. ABC’s incompetence turned out to be a blessing because Hanks was ready to pop.
Directed by Ron Howard and written by the ’80s go-to comedy duo of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, “Splash” paired Hanks with Daryl Hannah, who plays a mermaid smitten with the man she saved from drowning when he was a young boy. It’s an irredeemably silly premise for a romantic comedy, but execution is everything, and “Splash” is loaded with comedic talent. John Candy absolutely slays as Hanks’ carousing brother/business partner. This was the “SCTV” star’s first meaty role, and he makes a 14-course meal out of it, but Hanks plays off him nimbly, setting him up for belly laughs while swiping a giggle or two for himself.
While Hannah works wonders with a role that offers little in the way of dialogue, Hanks is the engine that powers “Splash” through its airy narrative. There’s nothing exceptional about his Allen Bauer. He’s a lovelorn schlub who runs a fruit and vegetable supplier. But he deftly banters with the boorish Candy and generates such palpable chemistry with Hannah that we buy all the way into his ludicrous predicament. Allen isn’t a loser; he’s a guy understandably hooked on a bizarre encounter from his childhood that has ruined romance for him. The film’s resolution is “Grease”-like in its magical thinking, but wholly appropriate given the material.
In any event, if Hanks could sell the heck out of “Splash,” imagine what he could do with less frivolous material.