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MMYIF: Turner & Hooch

My Misspent Youth In Films...

Turner & Hooch
Directed by: Roger Spottiswoode
Starring: Tom Hanks, Mare Winningham, Craig T. Nelson
Released: July 28, 1989

A detective must adopt a rambunctious dog in order to help him find a killer.

What I Thought Then

I remember this being one of the more serious movies we watched because there was a police procedural subplot. The dog antics were fun, but mostly I remember specific jokes like Tom Hanks trimming his nose hairs or "This is not your room" or "Send hail, God. Hail the size of cantaloupes."

What I Think Now

This movie is super horny for Hanks. Our first shot of him is a slow pan up his body while he's exercising on a ski machine, sweat glistening off his face. He spends an inordinate amount of time in his underwear--which are not white but are definitely tight. While watching with my wife I asked if she thought the movie was especially female-gaze-y. She responded that it was not, but that it was probably what a man thinks the female gaze is. Which tracks, underwear and slow pans and all. There is an off-camera sex scene followed by a cutesy making-breakfast scene in which there are visible scratch marks on Hanks' back. Someone in the make-up department painted scratch marks on Tom Hanks' back! As a background element that you may or may not even notice! That was someone's job!

Anyway, the main story is an odd-couple style bromance between the comically fastidious Scott Turner (Hanks) and a literal junkyard dog named Hooch. Hooch's owner Amos is a friend of Scott's, but he gets killed for getting too close to a vaguely-defined money laundering scheme. This is a sleepy little town where felonies hardly ever happen and Scott is three days away from relocating to San Francisco where there's more excitement. He's been training up his replacement, an affable black cop played by one of the two people you hire to play an affable black cop. (Oh, hey, Reginald VelJohnson's in this!) (The other one is Danny Glover.) There's an underdeveloped romance subplot between Scott and a veterinarian (Mare Winningham) who technically has a name, but it's only used once. She's always referred to as "the vet" until after the sex happens, at which point she's referred to as "the future Mrs. Scott Turner" and then eventually as "your wife." Hooch is kinda sorta a witness to Amos' murder and Scott can kinda sorta halfway control him because of his friendship with Amos, so they're roomies now. Hijinks ensue.

The money laundering plot is also underdeveloped, but it's also very much back-burnered until Act III. This movie is first and foremost about Hanks learning to be a dog dad. And much of the film's appeal is in Hanks doing what he was known for in this era: being charming and a little snarky while shouting for comedic effect and engaging in the odd bit of slapstick. The character stuff mostly works. VelJohnson and Hanks have decent chemistry, slightly moreso than Hanks and Winningham--it wouldn't be until 1990's Joe Versus the Volcano that studios figured out the magical pairing of Tom Hanks with Meg Ryan. The banter is casual and naturalistic. It reminds me a bit of the Mumblecore genre of indie films that would be popularized by the Duplass brothers in the aughts. The animal work is very impressive, and there are no special effects apart from the stunts, so visually it's aged fantastically. And it can't be understated that Hanks is very good at this sort of role. There's a oner where he goes through the wreckage of his house after Hooch is left there unsupervised and it's just a marvelous physical performance as he is at first in shock, then tries to start cleaning up the kitchen but gives up out of numb futility, then finds a rock collection on the floor and his grief morphs into rage as he picks up a pair of scissors, and then back to hopelessness as he finds his hi-fi and records in ruins.

It all rings just a bit hollow though. Apart from a mostly-naked Tom Hanks interacting with a comically monstrous dog, there just isn't much going on. The plot and setting are all kind of hand-waved in there. Where is Cypress Beach, precisely? Like... what state? We don't even know what time of year it is. It doesn't seem especially cold, but it's probably fall or winter because sooooooo much happens at night. As an example, consider the aforementioned oner. It's already dark when Scott leaves to go to the supermarket, and he spends a lot of time there while Hooch destroys his home. He then gets back and starts to clean up his house. That's probably at least another hour? Then another dog arrives that he recognizes from the vet and he takes Hooch and this other dog back to her office--it's still night time, by the way. He then helps her with the fuse box and then they finish painting a room. And then after that, the vet needs to walk her dog and it's still the same night. This all has to have taken hours. Right? Like, four hours at least.

Anyway. In the end, Scott has to break a few rules in order to uncover the dirty secrets at the heart of this--once again, vaguely defined--money laundering scheme. There's a highly predictable surprise twist. And finally Hooch gets shot and dies. That's the movie's big dramatic finale. The dog gets capped and uses its last bit of strength to save Scott's life. The bad guys get killed and Scott rushes Hooch to the vet where he can die. NEVER MIND THAT THERE ARE TWO DEAD HUMAN BODIES IN THE FACTORY WHERE HE JUST WAS! One of whom is the surprise plot twist! There are a lot of questions that are going to be raised about this crime scene, Scott, and you just fled it to take your dying dog to your girlfriend's house! Did you at least call it in first?

But it's all right because in the end Scott stayed in Cypress Beach and married the vet and she's now pregnant and they have a new puppy that looks and acts just like Hooch. Opa!

Recommendation?

Kinda? It's watchable and not without its charms, but pretty fleeting. Although if you're the kind of person who wants to know whether the dog dies, give it a pass.

Tune in next week to learn what a snarfblatt is...

In My Misspent Youth In Films, Kurt is going through the movies he grew up on. Read the explainer or see more posts.

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