By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Man falls for mermaid.
Allen (Tom Hanks) is stuck in a hapless job and a string of loveless relationships. After his last live-in girlfriend leaves him he becomes convinced that he will never find true love. Then on a whim he takes a trip to Cape Cod and goes out into the harbor in a small boat despite not being able to swim. When the engine conks out and he attempts to restart it he gets knocked into the water and his saved by a mysterious mermaid (Daryl Hannah). He returns to his New York home and mundane life only to find that the mermaid has sprouted legs and followed him. Allen doesn’t recognize the woman as the one who saved him, but he’s immediately smitten by her beauty nonetheless. They start up an awkward relationship, but when Allen proposes marriage she tells him she can’t as she has a dark secret, which is the fact that when she gets wet her legs turn into fins.
This was Ron Howard’s third foray behind the camera on a theatrical film and for the most part it’s a success. I enjoyed the mix of fantasy and surrealism and a love story that is cute, but not too cute. I loved the big city ambience including a scene involving classical street musicians and a visit to an outdoor ice skating rink. The climatic car chase through the downtown is funny especially when a group of soldiers manually overturn a taxi cab that is in their way.
Unfortunately the script, which is credited to four different writers, is full of major loopholes that to me ended up getting in the way of my enjoyment. I realize as a budding/struggling screenwriter that it is difficult to write a plot that is completely logical in every way and every story even the really good ones will usually have a few minor implausibility’s that one can overlook and forgive, but this one goes way beyond that.
For one thing I thought it was absurd that this mermaid who knew nothing of the English language when she came could somehow learn the language in one day simply by watching television. Yes, she may be able to pick up on some words, but to be able to learn their meanings and context is another story that just wouldn’t be possible for anyone to realistically grasp in such a short period of time. Besides I thought it was more interesting when she didn’t speak and it could’ve worked on that level alone. And while we’re at it who ended up paying for all those televisions in the department store that she destroys while in front of the sales staff when she states her name in such a high pitch that it explodes all of the screens?
I was also confused how the Eugene Levy character was able to track down the Hannah character and able to stalk her in his attempt to get her wet and expose her as a mermaid. He initially spots her under the ocean, but then later reads about her in a newspaper, but the article did not mention her name or whereabouts because at the time she hadn’t reconnected with Allen, so how would he know where to find her especially in the big, congested metropolis of New York?
I also had trouble with the scene where John Candy, who plays Allen’s brother, helps the Levy and Allen sneak the mermaid out of a science lab, but then ends up staying to take the blame while the others leave. The Candy character had no invested interest in the mermaid and came along only to help out, so why should he be the fall guy, or even agree to it?
There is also a scene where the mermaid buys Allen a giant water fountain and has it placed in his bedroom, which makes no sense because the doorway was clearly not big enough to get any of it through it. My biggest beef though is with the ending where the viewer learns that as long as Allen is with the mermaid he will be able to breathe underwater without any apparatus, which defies all laws of physics and seems thrown in to appease the hopelessly romantic masses who will buy into any contrived ‘happy ending’ no matter how utterly illogical. In some ways the idea that he couldn’t go with her and she would come back to visit him on occasion would’ve worked better because then they wouldn’t have to be with each other 24/7, which usually ends up being the cause of most break-ups anyways.
End of Spoiler Alert!
There is also the issue of how the mermaid manages to sprout human legs. Apparently there is a scene in the special edition DVD showing an old sea hag casting a spell on the mermaid, which allows her to have legs, but only for a short time. This scene was cut from the original release, which was a mistake as it was necessary to help explain the rest of the plot.
The movie does have its share of good points especially the casting of Hannah who seems born to play this role, but the truly great films do not require the viewer to overlook so many logic loopholes and unanswered questions in order to enjoy it.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: March 9, 1984
Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes
Director: Ron Howard
Studio: Buena Vista
Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube