Before “Oscar-winner” was a modifier synonymous with his name, Tom Hanks was just a really funny comedic actor. The ’80s were a golden age for him, where he crafted a screen image that balanced down-to-earthiness with being a slightly off-kilter goofball, an awkward adult that can’t help but stand out in a crowd.

Of the many comedies from that era that hold up - and most of them do -The Man with One Red Shoe is one of his best. It’s a great story, told well with humor that still gets laughs. The fact that it still works has a lot to do with the cast backing Hanks up: Charles Durning and Dabney Coleman as dueling spymasters, Carrie Fisher as a clingy quasi-love interest, and Jim Belushi as Hanks’s dim-witted friend (and Fisher’s husband).

But Hanks brings that odd duck quality that he was so good at evoking. In fact, that’s what makes his character, Richard Drew, central to the plot. While exiting an airport, he’s picked out by a CIA agent whose mission is to find a random stooge and pretend he’s the next James Bond. Richard draws attention because he’s so impressively normal - except for his single red sneaker, which is the result of a practical joke played by his friend Morris (Belushi). It’s just enough for him to pop out of the mob of travelers with a slight twinge of “otherness.”

The agent’s secret mission is part of a much larger scheme between two CIA officials, both vying to be the agency’s head. Cooper (Dabney Coleman) is a cutthroat upstart who is trying to embarrass Ross (Charles Durning), the current director, and get him tossed out. But Ross is one step ahead: He’s planned on luring Cooper into tailing and even killing a random person by making it look like the target is an important spy.

Richard, needless to say, is no spy. He’s clueless, a violinist dedicated to music, not politics or power. Hanks plays him as an eccentric who’s in love with his art (as well as with women, though he’s far from being a player). He’s also lost in a personal Wonderland. After becoming the spy ring’s focus, his life is warped by strange happenings he can’t understand. The plumbing is off in his apartment, with the sink controlling the shower; his toothpaste is full of shampoo. And a strange but beautiful woman named Maddy (Lori Singer) keeps showing up, in the airport, at a softball game, even in his living room.

Hanks’s reactions are priceless. He nails a look of disturbed incredulity that gets a lot of use, considering just how bizarre the turns of his life become. Whether he’s fainting from a tranquilizer dart or ruining a classical concert when he notices Maddy in the audience, he’s immense fun to watch. Belushi gets a star turn as well, especially when dead bodies start piling up in Richard’s apartment, only to vanish whenever he brings someone else in to see them.

There’s an anti-authoritarian streak in The Man with One Red Shoe that makes it a kind of cousin to Big. While it’s much more rooted in reality than the empowerment fantasy of Big, it’s also about the serious, grown-up world blindly chasing ambition instead of living from the heart. Red Shoe doesn’t explore that theme quite as deeply, but it’s there, especially in a brilliant scene in which Maddy reluctantly seduces Richard while a host of spies watch from behind two-way mirrors.

When Maddy gets Richard to confess to something he’s hiding, he reveals the moving piece of music he’s been composing, which wins her over. He comes off as a little thick to the spies, but he’s really just too blinded by his passion to get wrapped up in their soulless scheming.

Andrew Good is a film critic and writer living in San Diego.

Comments (1)

On November 27, 2015 at 7:01 PM, Lara Petersen wrote...

So glad you liked this film!!
It’s fun and no one takes themselves too seriously.
Such a sweet 80s movie….a young Tom Hanks is adorable, Lori Singer gorgeous, Jim Belushi hilarious, Dabney Coleman and Charles Durning wonderfully slimey.
This cute movie is light, fluffy and hysterical in quite a few places.

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