The Suburbans

Friday October 29, 1999

     Call it, if you want, "That Thing You Do: The Sequel." Except that, unlike that underrated Tom Hanks project from 1996 about one-hit wonders from the 1960s, "The Suburbans" gets its title from the name of an imaginary "fab four" from Long Island that streaked across the pop universe on the cusp of the Reagan administration and flamed out after one hit single.
     Now it's the cusp of the millennium and the Suburbans have become, if anything, even more suburban. Drummer Rory (Tony Guma) is a struggling insurance salesman who's living with a high-strung ex-model (Bridgette Wilson) who's got two high-strung kids from a previous "marriage from hell." Lead guitarist Mitch (Craig Bierko) is a shopping-center podiatrist who can't let go of his rocker dreams. Bassist Gil (Will Ferrell), newly married, is more solicitous about his stock portfolio and expensive toys than he is about his musical chops.
     And then there's Danny (Donal Lardner Ward), the leader, who seems to have the most idyllic life of all. He's a professional lifeguard who's been living in non-wedded bliss to a beautiful photographer (Amy Brenneman). But there's trouble in paradise. She's ready for children. He seems to feel some loose ends in his past that haven't been tied.
     And that's when Cate (Jennifer Love Hewitt), a twentysomething record producer, steps into Danny's life after an impromptu performance by his very rusty band. She thinks the world has been waiting for a Suburbans reunion and coerces both the group and her bosses (Jerry Stiller and Ben Stiller) to produce a new album, a video and a forthcoming pay-per-view reunion.
     Who cares if the group crashed and burned after one hit? Or that hardly anyone remembers anything about them except the sordid (never really specified) circumstances of their breakup? "The more pathetic you were then," Cate assures Danny, "the more sympathetic you are now."
     Anyone who is addicted to VH1's autopsies of rock careers can relate to that line and its presence gives just a small tremor of the bounce in the script, which is co-written by Guma and director Ward. The latter, whose "My Life's in Turnaround" was also driven by a savvy "inside" view of show-biz, also has a puppyish charm as an actor. He does bewilderment especially well.
     Even with its charm and promise, "The Suburbans" goes into a tailspin after its impressive setup. Its dramatic tactics become so tangled and diffuse that, by the end, you get the feeling that everything gets tied up too hastily. Also, as with a lot of directors who are fine writers, Ward's sense of visual composition is off-kilter by several degrees.

The Suburbans, 1999. R for language and some sexuality. An Ignite Entertainment presentation released by TriStar Pictures. Directed by Donal Lardner Ward. Written by Ward and Tony Guma. Produced by Michael Burns, Brad Krevoy, J.J. Abrams, Leanna Creel. Executive producers Marc Butan, Tim Foster, George Linardo. Co-producer John Saviano. Director of photography Michael Barrett. Production designer Susan Bowles. Edited by Kathryn Himoff. Costume designer Pamela Withers. Music by Robbie Konder. Running time: 1 hour,26 minutes. Amy Brenneman as Grace. Donal Lardner Ward as Danny. Tony Guma as Rory. Craig Bierko as Mitch. Will Ferrell as Gil. Jennifer Love Hewitt as Cate.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times