Boy meets mermaid. Boy leaves mermaid in sea. Mermaid tracks down boy in New York. Boy and mermaid fall in love. Boy and mermaid's happiness jeopardized by insane mermaid hunter.
In the days before he was an A-list Oscar winning director, Ron Howard used to run a nice little sideline in small, perfectly honed comedies. This one starring Tom Hanks, another expert comedy practitioner, who went all serious, is a delight from beginning end, a likeable, funny literal fish out of water fantasy that wins you over with its unpretentious warm heart.
The film that launched Disney’s Touchstone production arm as the company had fears over the low level nudity and adult humour, Splash milks its premise of an impossible love story (very popular after E.T.) mining all the familiar stranger in a strange land clichés (Madison learns about US culture through TV, she embarrases herself in a posh restaurant) for all they’re worth. But Howard also finds some nice contrasts to the appealing love story; John Candy as Allen’s boorish serial dater brother gives a salty texture to the proceedings and Eugene Levy’s madcap scientist hellbent on exposing Madison as a fish-woman lends the film an edgy sense of slapstick. Howard is not afraid to commit to the potentially sillier aspects of the story, inviting the audience to participate. Elsewhere, he gives the underwater/fantasy sequences a beguiling magical quality that help the mitigate against the film’s sitcom feel.
But the real reason Splash works is the spot-on playing of the central duo. Hannah’s Madison (named after the Big Apple street corner) is charmingly innocent and naïve, proving along with Blade Runner that the actress feels far more comfortable playing non humans. And Hanks is terrific as the fruit and veg seller whose listless life is transformed by an unexpected romance. Hanks can make a scene where he is just waiting for a lift funny yet doesn’t shortchange on the emotional stuff too. He provides a touching centre to a sweet but never too cloying, terrifically entertaining confection.
The movie that really showed Tom Hanks' promise as a deliverer of great comedy and heart-warming pathos.