The Money Pit (1986) – A Review
Tom Hanks and Shelley Long are the unlucky couple who buy one big lemon of a house. It’s going to take a lot of work, money and sanity to put this thing together. This ordeal even puts their relationship in jeopardy. Will the walls of this ‘money pit’ ever get raised and these two live happily ever after?
I’ve often seen The Money Pit referred to as a ‘remake’ of the 1948 comedy Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, which starred Cary Grant and Myrna Loy. It’s a similar premise – couple buys a nightmare of a fixer upper house that’s barely standing, cue the comedy.
I don’t think I’d call The Money Pit a remake of Blandings though. The basic premise is such a general blanket of an idea that there’s little other connection between the two films other than that. Other films have used the premise. The Egg and I from 1947, George Washington Slept Here from 1942. I could even put Buster Keaton 1920’s film One Week in this subgenre of new cursed homeowners. Anyone got some more?
Seeing that this idea goes way back to the silent era, it shows how timeless a story it is and how audiences can identify with it at any point in time. Just create a couple, move them into one heck of a fixer upper and design some comedy for them to pull their hair out at.
It shouldn’t be surprising that there’s been recent rumors of a remake of The Money Pit. I don’t know why they just wouldn’t use a new name for it, other than the title ‘The Money Pit’ is so memorable and has penetrated audiences minds, they probably just want to reuse it and bank on nostalgia. I’ll bet this latest ‘remake’ won’t have any similarities to the 1986 film other than the broad idea of a couple buying a house that falls apart – just like most movies in this subgenre.
There are some fun small moments in The Money Pit. It has some funny sightgags, two likable stars, amusing additions by character actors, but it all never escalates to a comedic degree any more than the first time we see the staircase fall down or Hanks and Long shockingly react to the latest appliance exploding.
One thing worth noting is The Money Pit was Hanks’ first collaboration with Steven Spielberg, who was executive producer on the film. At this point Spielberg had his hands in a lot of pots. Hanks and Spielberg would go not to make much better and more dramatic films years down the road.
So, Hanks is lawyer Walter Fielding, Long is his girlfriend Anna. They’re staying in her ex’s NY apartment. Max, an arrogant music composer (Alexander Godunov), is returning, they have to leave and find some new digs. Walter gets word of a ‘steal’ of a house.
Maureen Stapleton wants to sell her expansive place quickly, she seems a little kooky, but the place looks great. It’s an offer they can’t refuse. Walter and Anna scrape the money together and before they know it they’re driving up to their new country mansion.
From there the expected ‘collapsing comedy’ begins happening.
Stoves, water pipes, electrical outlets, a staircase, chimneys, there’s complications to it all. The ‘Rube Goldberg’ style calamities are the real star of The Money Pit.
I imagine that director Richard Benjamin and the production team’s main focus and energy went into thinking them up, designing them and putting them together. They’re certainly more thought out and compelling than the story between Walter and Anna.
Things move onto rebuilding the house with a wacky band of characters and more headaches for our couple. Running jokes like they’re testing missiles at this site, contractors driving expensive cars, desperate pleas for permits and work crews from hell.
As the walls fall down and the bills go up, their relationship starts to waver. Walter and Anna decide to call it quits in the middle of construction because they ‘both’ believe she slept with Max, when she really didn’t. It’s pretty silly and is so plot convenient to create some drama between the two.
Somehow they BOTH mistakenly believe she had sex with Max??? Well, ok. I’m always anxious to get back to seeing a scaffolding collapse than spend time on this.
Hanks and Long I never thought really clicked very well together and made a special onscreen pairing. They’re both likable and are game to get messy and act stressed during all the physical comedy and disaster scenarios they’re put through, but as for me rooting for them and hoping to see them patch their relationship up and live happily ever after….eh.
The characters are more like placeholders who aren’t very distinctive or memorable as they’re written. It’s the stars likability that is the only thing that comes across and they’re not helped by anything in particular about the characters of Walter and Anna they’re playing. It seemed more important to get them to hit their marks on cue and give a shocked stare at something in the house breaking. That’s pretty much the biggest requirements of their participation.
Some very brief turns by character actors are the other highlights aside from the house, but they’re way too brief and aren’t given the spotlight for very long to make much of an impact.
Maureen Stapleton, Joe Mantegna, Yakov Smirnoff, Jake Seinfeld (does anyone remember Body By Jake???) the kooky bands Hanks works for. They pop in and quickly disappear. The subplots don’t really pay off in any funny satisfying ways either.
For instance, Hanks’ embezzling father is set up at the very beginning of the film and is never mentioned again until the very end, and that’s only for a very lame joke. I never understood why they used him as the framework for the film. It’s a very long way to go for a predictable joke.
Philip Bosco as Curly the foreman is one character that I wish I could’ve seen more of. He did a similar small burst of comedy in Quick Change as a by-the-book bus driver.
He has one of the funniest and most memorable lines in the film. The running gag is when asked how long any bit of construction will take the answer is always, ‘two weeks’.
Hanks is once again told “two weeks” by Bosco. In complete surprise Hanks says, “Two weeks? Two weeks?!?”, to which Bosco replies, “You sound like a parakeet. ‘Two weeks, two weeks.” and lets out a hearty laugh. That joke has stayed with me since I first saw The Money Pit decades ago.
Alexander Godunov is quite delectable as Long’s ex, the unapologetic pompous conductor. Josh Mostel has one funny scene of jogging around a track while Hanks simply walks to keep up with his pace.
One of the other gags that I always really liked was the ‘Mad Max-style’ plumbing crew that arrives and look ready to unleash hell onto this house. It looks more like they’re about to attack the house rather than try to rebuild it.
It’s the collapsing house around this couple that audiences want to see and will ultimately take away from The Money Pit. Hanks cackling like a madman at a destroyed bathtub is a funny moment.
When the movie is ready to fade out with the happy couple and their completed dream home I kind of shrug my shoulders. Of course, the film wasn’t trying to be a masterpiece of cinema, but it could have been much richer with the comedy. It just manages to reach as a passable time killer of a comedy thanks to Hanks, Long and exploding stoves.
It’s the destructive comedy that you’ll remember from it. It’s too bad they banked on all that to be the main draw and didn’t come up with some characters and interesting storylines to build around it.
The Trailer – they used a lot of the best ‘money shots’ in it