Ron Howard has been a favorite filmmaker of mine for so long, it’s hard to believe I had never watched his first collaboration with Tom Hanks, the romantic fantasy “Splash,” until now. As their latest film, “Inferno,” hit theatres, though, it felt like time to finally catch up with that hit. I knew the basic story of the film- Hanks falls in love with mermaid Darryl Hannah- but the film also has strong supporting turns by John Candy and Eugene Levy that help anchor the film comedically. I wouldn’t necessarily put it in the same category as “Night Shift” or “Parenthood” among Howard’s comedic work as a director, but it’s easy to see why people took to it.
Hanks stars as Allen Bauer, a business man who has been longing for love his whole life- when he was eight, he fell off of a ferry, and envisioned himself meeting a mermaid. Now in his 20s, he’s a workaholic owner of the family business while his brother, Freddie (John Candy), is still the same smartass goof-off he was when he was a kid. One day, Allan is on a small boat being taken to an island when he falls out, and as he cannot swim, he almost drowns were it not for…a mermaid (Hannah). The same mermaid he saw when he was 8. Of course, he’s unconscious at the time, so he doesn’t see who pulls him out of the water, but the mermaid finds his wallet and goes on land to find him. She gets picked up by the police and Allan’s life is about to get turned upside down, even more so when a marine biologist (played by Eugene Levy) is on the hunt for the mermaid, who picks the name Madison, as well, and always seems to get close.
The fact that four people- producer Brian Grazer (story), Bruce Jay Friedman (screen story) and screenwriters Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel and Friedman- had a hand in writing the film makes the sometimes uneven writing and tone of the film make more sense. Howard was not yet as skilled at working with high concepts as he showed himself capable of in his next film, “Cocoon,” and it shows in this film, even though it was following up a bonafide great comedy in “Night Shift.” Here, I feel like the humor does not quite blend with the fantasy elements and love story. If the film had hewed more towards being a straight romantic fantasy about a man who learns what love is when he falls for a mermaid, I feel like the film would have been better. Candy and Levy help, but neither is in top form. As the couple at the center of the film, however, Hanks and Hannah have fine chemistry, and do very good work in a love story that makes the unreal feel palpable and entertaining. Howard’s work with actors is a big part of why we buy it as much as we do.