''That Thing You Do!,'' ''Sleepers,'' and more head to theaters in October

By EW Staff
Updated August 23, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

That Thing You Do!
Starring Tom Hanks, Tom Everett Scott, Liv Tyler, Johnathon Schaech, Steve Zahn, Kevin Pollak, Rita Wilson, Peter Scolari
Directed by Tom Hanks

Last year, everyone in Hollywood accepted one maxim: Tom Hanks can do anything. Forrest Gump landed the actor his second Oscar, while Apollo 13 and Toy Story, respectively, became his fifth and sixth hits in a row. Hanks might’ve been tempted to safeguard such a sterling record with a sure thing, but instead he opted for That Thing — a low-key ensemble flick about a ramshackle Pennsylvania rock band making its way to Los Angeles in 1964. He wrote the script; he wanted to direct it. Sure, Hollywood thought, Hanks can do anything. But can he do everything?

Thankfully, the actor’s modesty tends to deflect any accusations of hubris. ”I think it would’ve been real hubris if I had written a story about a guy who lives in a cave all by himself, and I starred in it,” says Hanks, who plays only a small role, popping up as a Phil Spectoresque record producer. ”But this movie is a big kind of sloppy ensemble piece, and because of that I think I can avoid any sort of auteur distractions.”

Although Hanks has feasted on stardom, That Thing You Do! focuses on people who get to experience only a nibble: Its narrator is Guy Patterson (Scott), a small-town drummer who watches his band, the Wonders, rise from obscurity, score a radio smash, and fall apart at the very crest of fame. To stress the point (and save money), Hanks bypassed big names and filled the screen with young actors on the brink of celebrity: Stealing Beauty‘s Tyler, How to Make an American Quilt‘s Schaech, Reality Bites‘ Zahn, and Scott, a newcomer best known from TV’s Grace Under Fire. ”I don’t think our story could’ve survived having a big recognizable star as one of the ensemble,” Hanks says.

Of course, the actors hadn’t been born in 1964, so their writer/director plied them with vintage videotapes like Beach Blanket Bingo and The T.A.M.I. Show to acquaint them with the pre-grunge vibe. And since they weren’t musicians, the Wonders took lessons and practiced together in order to groove like a real band.

Apparently it worked. ”We played for a big huge crowd inside this one room, and it was just a big rush,” reports Scott, whose performance already has some calling him — surprise — a young Tom Hanks. ”Of course they were being paid to scream, but we were pretty psyched.” (Oct. 4)

Buzz Although its giddy charms probably aren’t Oscar material, That Thing‘s got a good beat and you can dance to it.

Starring Jason Patric, Brad Pitt, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Bacon, Billy Crudup, Ron Eldaro, Vittorio Gassman, Minnie Driver, Terry Kinney, Brad Renfro, Joseph Perrino
Directed by Barry Levinson

This is a true story about friendships that run deeper than blood,” Lorenzo Carcaterra writes at the start of Sleepers, an account of four boys from New York’s Hell’s Kitchen who are sent to reform school, where they are tortured and sexually assaulted. Two of them grow up to kill a former reformatory guard; the two others — an assistant DA and a journalist — conspire to help them beat the rap.