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What's the big deal?
Turner & Hooch is a comic crime film released in 1989 and was directed by Roger Spottiswoode. The film stars Tom Hanks as an obsessively tidy police officer forced into caring for a murdered man's unruly dog and dealing with the chaos that inevitably comes his way. The film also stars Mare Winningham, Craig T. Nelson, Reginald VelJohnson and Beasley as Hooch, a French Mastiff with an extraordinary ability to seemingly drool on command. Released to a mixed response from critics, the film was released shortly after the similarly themed K-9 but nonetheless, managed to attain a cult following in the years since thanks to Hanks' rise to superstardom. A proposed pilot for a TV series was filmed the following year but it wasn't until 2021 when a series was finally commissioned by Disney for their streaming service but unfortunately, was cancelling after just one season. Despite the film's relative success at the box office, no plans were ever in place for a sequel.
What's it about?
Borderline obsessive-compulsive Scott Turner is an officer working in the sleepy seaside community of Cypress Beach, California. As he's desperately bored in his current role, Scott decides to transfer to the much busier area of Sacramento which would leave newcomer David Sutton as his replacement. Scott shows David around the town including meeting up with old timer and long-time friend Amos Reed as well as his slobbery hound, Hooch. That very evening, Amos is found murdered and a distraught Scott is brought in to investigate. With Hooch being the only witness to the crime, he realises that he will have to look after the dog while working the case.
Hooch, however, is not exactly compatible with Scott's pristine apartment and quickly takes over his life by trashing the place, eating Scott out of house and home and sleeping in Scott's bed - drooling constantly as he does so. At his wit's end, Scott tries to get local veterinary nurse Emily Carson to help him but she believes that Hooch will ultimately benefit Scott and has nothing to do with the dog. Sure enough, Hooch quickly leads Scott on a merry chase around town on the hunt for Amos' killer and it leads to a suspect seafood restaurant owned by local businessman Walter Boyett...
What's to like?
Once you're on board with the silliness of the entire concept, Turner & Hooch is actually far more entertaining than you might expect. Most of the comedy comes from the dog, of course, who bites and snarls and dribbles as much as you'd hope it would. For his part, Hanks does well interacting with the canine even if he seems to realise that he's always going to be the sidekick in the relationship. This is the shouty Hanks that fans of Big or Splash will remember before he got overly serious in the mid-90s. While I'm not a huge fan of his work from this period (he comes across here as quite unlikable in a number of scenes), I can at least appreciate that this type of performance is what was required for the material.
Other than that, the film doesn't have much else to offer. The story is as goofy as you'd expect and the film runs pretty much as you'd imagine a film about a dog and his cop buddy would. But Hanks works his socks off here, combining well with Beasley (the dog that played Hooch) and Winningham as possibly the most Eighties couple imaginable. It does get sillier as the film rumbles on and even throws in a dark twist in the ending which might upset the younger viewers the film is undoubtedly aimed at. If you're looking for a more kiddie-friendly version of the popular buddy-cop formula from the time then this will fit the bill quite nicely.
- The film's original director was none other than Henry Winkler, the actor best known for playing The Fonz in Happy Days. Winkler was fired just two weeks into production by Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg who disliked what had already been filmed. Winkler later commented that he got on better with Hooch than he did with Turner.
- The other two officers involved are named Foster and McCabe, played by Kevin Scannell and Ebbe Roe Smith. Coincidentally, Foster and McCabe are also the names of two officers who shadow Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop - which was also written by Daniel Petrie Jr.
- Cypress Beach is a fictional location. The film was shot mainly in the areas of Monterey, Moss Landing and Pacific Grove in California. Pacific Grove can be seen during the car chase down Ocean View Avenue, the wedding chase and exterior shots of the police station.
- Ron Howard later confirmed that although Winkler and Hanks clashed on set, the pair have since patched things up. Howard is friends with both men, having worked with Winkler on Happy Days and directed Hanks in films like Apollo 13 and The Da Vinci Code franchise.
What's not to like?
As great as this film may be for kids, there is precious little else for anyone over the age of, say 15. The film spends too long stretching out the threadbare plot to breaking point, forcing itself to inject a subplot about Hanks' obsessively tidy cop and Winningham's girl-next-door vet which doesn't quite ring true. Safe to say that this is one film that doesn't stand up to much scrutiny - was Scott really the best one to investigate the murder of his dear friend and would his mind really be focused on the case with his growing attraction to Dr Carson or dealing with the aftermath of whatever Hooch has slobbered over this time? Suffice to say, it's best not to ask too many questions and just treat the film as the light-hearted fluff it is.
Perhaps the film might have been better with a stronger supporting cast as Hanks is the only actor to successfully distract us from the ugly-but-lovable pooch. Nelson is disappointing as the police chief and VelJohnson is no different to his most famous role, that of Officer Al Powell in Die Hard. If all you're wanting in a film is a big, ugly dog causing havoc wherever he goes then Turner & Hooch will be ideal but for the rest of you, the movie has little substance beyond this most basic of premises. The story makes little sense, the set-up feels gimmicky and the production feels rushed in order to compete the other dog-themed cop comedy of the time, Jim Belushi's K-9 which wasn't any better if we're being honest.
Should I watch it?
Turner & Hooch was never the sort of film to change the world but it understands its place in it, settling down for being a predictable but enjoyable comedy that's probably best suited for younger viewers. Hanks saves the film from tanking, providing good chemistry with his canine co-star and is much more engaging a lead than poor Belushi is in the film's doppelganger K-9. But really, this is a simple film about yet another mismatched duo solving a case - granted, one of them is a dog that looks like a gremlin - and if you've seen a buddy-cop film then this one won't really stand out.
Great For: dog lovers, dog owners, laughing at Tom Hanks pratting about in tiny black briefs
Not So Great For: Hollywood's reputation for churning out any old rubbish as a screenplay, K-9, anyone afraid of big bitey dogs
What else should I watch?
The reason I've been thinking about Turner & Hooch is because I'm currently writing another article about 'movie twins' and the clash between this and K-9 obviously came up. For all intents and purposes, there is very little difference between the two except that Hanks was an actor on the rise at the time and Jim Belushi (the star of K-9) was beginning to experience a decline in fortunes. If I had to pick one then it would be this film because Hooch's incredibly repulsive appearance gets more laughs than the more conventional German Shepherd star of K-9, "Jerry Lee" (who was actually played by multiple dogs but don't tell anybody).
Buddy-cop films, usually pairing up a mismatched couple of police officers and put them on the same case for comedic effect, are released with almost clockwork regularity by Hollywood and why not? Some of the biggest films of the Eighties were buddy-cops like Beverly Hills Cop and Lethal Weapon which in turn led to later films like Bad Boys, Rush Hour and even the third Die Hard movie, Die Hard With A Vengeance. In fact, the trope has now become so well established that it isn't afraid to poke fun at itself - British comedy Hot Fuzz sees Simon Pegg and Nick Frost reunite to tackle rural crime in typically explosive fashion while the Starsky & Hutch revival starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson was much more of a straight-forward comedy than the police procedural that inspired it. If you have to then bring your own dog...
Det. Scott Turner
Beasley, a French Mastiff
Dr Emily Carson
Craig T. Nelson
Chief Howard Hyde
Det. David Sutton
Dennis Shryack, Michael Blodgett, Daniel Petrie Jr, Jim Cash & Jack Epps Jr.*
Release Date (UK)
12th January, 1990
Comedy, Crime, Drama
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