Review: Turner and Hooch (Spottiswoode, 1989)

Companion review for Top 10 Tom Hanks Films 1984 – 1989

Is a dog, man’s best friend? Well, Tom Hanks doesn’t think so – at first that is. Turner and Hooch is certainly lightweight entertainment that goes about its business with a clean spirit and a lack of any pretensions, retelling the buddy-cop story with one of the buddies being substituted by a big, hairy mutt. This is pre-Oscar-winning Tom Hanks, phoning in a performance with the relative idiosyncrasies that made him a comic star in the early eighties, all present and correct. While ‘lightweight’ is the most polite way to describe the film – a Roger Spottiswoode offering that is rather unmemorable – its slight charm and straightforward nature make for an enjoyable, if decidedly, thin film that rather passes by your consciousness than leaves any lasting impression.

Tom Hanks plays Detective Scott Turner, an excessively clean-cut cop whose life is turned upside down when a dog named Hooch comes to live in his house after the dog’s owner, and Turner’s friend, is murdered. Turner begrudgingly puts up with the dog knowing it is the only witness to the murder, hoping that at some point, the dog might be able to help the police find the killer. The problem though, is Turner might not have the patience because his tidy existence is put on hold as Hooch tears apart all that he holds dear.

The job of these types of movies must be to offer an element of escapism in a feel-good, happy-ending kind of way, shouldn’t they? How can you put Tom Hanks in a film where the only character he has to play off is a dog, and expect anything other than Sunday afternoon entertainment for all the family. But Turner and Hooch doesn’t really find its footing as Spottiswoode struggles with such thin material to make anything other than Hanks and the pooch’s personal war, interesting. The crime plot and romantic angle are dealt with in such a trivial way the film becomes bogged down in itself, with its most appealing aspects left as little titbits that occur every so often. Yet the film does succeed when it doesn’t let the plot get in the way of Turner and Hooch’s dysfunctional relationship, which acts like a sort of education in reverse-domesticity, and it’s rather satisfying that Spottiswoode is able to make the buddy-cop motif work between an animal and a human being. The scene when Turner takes Hooch on stakeout is great fun and Turner’s observation that Hooch’s drooling problem looks like he swallowed a tennis shoe with the laces hanging out is delightful humour, certainly as Hanks delivers it with the dry wit we’re so accustomed to.

Turner and Hooch’s problem is that it’s so light it floats away – there’s very little substance and it has as much subtext as Hooch’s toilet habits. Tom Hanks certainly saves the film from being utterly forgettable, and as films with canines go, this one has all the cutesy ‘that’s a good dog’ moments and ‘man’s best friend’ jokes it needs to succeed as a slight but fun entry into the annals of eighties Hollywood cinema. The film can be quite funny at times, and at others exceptionally dull but it will more than likely work for its target audience – one for the kids then.

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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