In "Nothing in Common," David Basner (Tom Hanks) is a high-powered executive in an ad agency, a compulsive womanizer and nonstop prankster. Basner (as everyone calls him) is the office ringmaster, one of those guys who's always "on" -- he doesn't live life, he claws and grabs at it.
Director Garry Marshall shows you how that somewhat manic quality has made Basner a success; as well as any recent movie, "Nothing in Common" captures the edgy, frantic, often funny and often vicious quality of the advertising world. But while Hanks' Basner may be a realistic portrait of the kind of jerk who gets ahead in this cutthroat milieu, it doesn't exactly make him someone you'd want to spend 2 1/2 hours with.
*The point of "Nothing in Common" is that Basner realizes that, too -- having ignored his parents for years, he learns, through a series of family crises, that he's closer to his father Max (Jackie Gleason) than he'd care to admit, and that there are things life is about more than climbing the Golden Stairs, among them a serious relationship with his girlfriend (lovely, inert Bess Armstrong).
What he learns, though, isn't exactly heartwarming. Father and son, it turns out, do have something in common -- they're both jerks, and in the same way (Basner is a third-generation skirt chaser). And while Marshall and his screen writers, comedians Rick Podell and Michael Preminger, have some insight into family dynamics, they haven't dramatized it in any convincing way.
"Nothing in Common" is unnecessarily long, and it constantly bogs down in overwrought scenes between Basner and Dad, or Dad and Mom (a wooden, self-conscious Eva Marie Saint), or Basner and Mom, any two of which could have done the work of all of them. All of this noise is more hand-wringing than heart-wrenching, because the conflict comes from dialogue (on the order of "Oh God, Max, what happened to us?") rather than the story. The family scenes of "Nothing in Common" are like a psychodrama out of the '50s, and they fit badly with the advertising scenes, which are slick, nutty and contemporary.
Marshall further slows the movie with a number of sodden montages -- a "son takes care of Dad" montage, a "creative process" montage, a "getting to know you" montage, a "dark night of the soul" montage and a truly peculiar sequence in which the rutting of two horses inspires some riverbank lovemaking between Basner and his client (lovely, inert Sela Ward), all of which seem to be included only to provide space for some bad rock 'n' roll.
Thirty years later, Gleason is still playing The Great One, with diminishing returns -- he thinks of acting as simply the projection of personality and, at 70, he doesn't seem even to have the energy for that. Hanks' performance is being touted as a big step for him (by Hanks himself, among others), but it really isn't. The challenge of the role is to be both charming and annoying at the same time. But Hanks did that in "Splash," and more -- he showed you that redeemable something in every crumbum's soul.
As you'd expect from Garry Marshall (whose TV credits include "The Odd Couple," "Mork and Mindy" and "Happy Days"), "Nothing in Common" has some funny moments, particularly between Hanks and Barry Corbin, as a bullying executive who hires Basner to make commercials. But a desire to make a big statement about What's Really Important in Life turns the movie to lead.
Marshall, of all people, should know that laughter is big statement enough.
Nothing in Common, opening today at area theaters, is rated PG, and contains profanity and sexual themes.