Few movies can serve two masters: Nothing in Common aims at frenetic comedy and poignant drama and falls short of both. Tom Hanks plays David Basner, a womanizing Chicago advertising executive who has just been named creative director of his high-powered agency. Basner is a hipper-than-thou individual who says that his reason for driving a Jeep is, “I look good in it.” But one night his giddy, adrenaline-fuelled rush up the corporate ladder is interrupted by a phone call from a near-stranger: his father. Max Basner (Jackie Gleason) has called to say that David’s mother has moved out after 36 years of marriage. David, who has been too busy with his career to have much time for his family, is then forced to become a surrogate father to both parents. He realizes that he learned to be indifferent to his family from his father, a garment salesman with a taste for fast horses and loose women.
The domestic crisis happens at the worst possible time for David. He is chasing a major new advertising account with an airline while pursuing a boardroom romance with the airline owner’s executive daughter, Cheryl Ann Wayne (Sela Ward). But Hanks, saddled with a script that forces him alternately to assume manic glibness and syrupy sensitivity, is ultimately unlikable and unconvincing.
For his part, Gleason manages to transcend the vagaries of the problematic script by writers Rick Podell and Michael Preminger. Resisting the temptation to overact, Gleason brings credibility to the poorly conceived role of a crass, overblown boor who is humanized by his failing health. The film’s other saving grace is supporting player Hector Elizondo who is superb as a hypertense advertising executive obsessed by his baldness.
Director Garry Marshall’s sitcom background, as creator of Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley, is much in evidence. Indeed, the fast-paced scenes in the advertising agency have a certain amount of throwaway charm. But his handling of the domestic conflicts is heavy-handed and stale. In the end, Marshall’s portrait of an advertising executive in crisis is as shallow as a cornflakes commercial.
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