PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):
As an eight year-old boy, Allen Bauer (David Kreps) is vacationing with his family near Cape Cod. While taking a sight-seeing tour on a ferry, he gazes into the ocean and sees something below the surface that fascinates him. Allen jumps into the water, even though he cannot swim. He grasps the hands of a girl who is inexplicably under the water with him and an instant connection forms between the two. Allen is quickly pulled to the surface by the deck hands and the two are separated, though apparently no one else sees the girl. After the ferry moves off, Allen continues to look back at the girl in the water, who cries at their separation. She then dives underwater again, showing her mermaid’s tail. Allen comes to believe the encounter was a near-death vision hallucination, but his bond with the mermaid proves so strong that his subsequent relationships with women invariably fail as he seeks the connection he felt with the mermaid.
Years later, Allen (Tom Hanks) is a co-owner of a wholesale fruit and vegetable business in New York City with his womanizing older brother Freddie (John Candy). Depressed after his latest breakup, Allen returns to Cape Cod, where he briefly encounters eccentric scientist Dr. Walter Kornbluth (Eugene Levy) and again falls into the sea. He wakes up on a beach where he encounters a beautiful naked woman (Daryl Hannah) who, unknown to him, is the mermaid he met as a boy (her tail transforms into legs when it becomes dry). He instantly becomes attracted to her as she had again saved him from drowning. After kissing him, she dives into the sea and leaves Allen to return home. Kornbluth, while diving in order to seek proof of strange sea creatures, also encounters the mermaid in her sea form, causing him to become obsessed with finding her again.
The mermaid finds Allen’s wallet that he dropped in the water and decides to find him in New York. She comes ashore naked at the Statue of Liberty, where she is remanded for indecent exposure much to the dismay of a group of visitors. Gaining information from Allen’s wallet, the mermaid gets released into his care. She picks up English from watching television all day and chooses the name Madison from a Madison Avenue sign. Madison is vague about where she comes from and tries to distract Allen from asking questions about her country of origin. She tells Allen that she will be in New York for “six fun-filled days when the moon is full” and if she stays longer, she can never go home again (the reason for this is unexplained, though in the Special Features of the 2004 DVD edition, there is a reference to a deleted scene in which Madison has visited a sea hag and made some sort of bargain).
Despite Madison’s occasional unusual behavior, she and Allen fall in love. Meanwhile, Kornbluth, realizing that the naked woman at Liberty Island was the mermaid he had encountered, pursues the couple, trying to expose her as a mermaid by splashing her with water. Many attempts are unsuccessful and Kornbluth ends up with multiple injuries, including a badly broken arm and whiplash. When he finally does so, Madison is taken in by government scientists led by Kornbluth’s cold-hearted former colleague and rival Dr. Ross (Richard B. Shull) for examination. However, Kornbluth regrets his actions after he learns that Madison is due to be studied and dissected, as he just wanted to prove that he wasn’t crazy.
Allen is, of course, shocked by Madison’s secret and when he denies his love for her, Freddie lashes out at him, telling his brother how happy he was with her. Finally, Allen confronts a guilt-ridden Kornbluth at the dentist, who agrees to help him.
Impersonating two Swedish scientists, Freddie and Allen enter the lab with Kornbluth and manage to smuggle Madison outside. Madison makes it back to the ocean and tells Allen that he can survive under water as long as he is with her. Allen realizes she was the young mermaid he had met so long before. The United States military arrive to recapture her for research ignoring Allen’s demands to let her be free. Although Madison warns him that if he comes to live in the sea he can’t return, he jumps into the water after her and they elude their pursuers. Together they swim along the ocean floor toward what appears to be an underwater kingdom.
These days, it seems as if vampires, werewolves, and now zombies are all the rage, but in the 80s, that title belonged to mermaids. Splash was a major reason for that, followed a few years later by The Little Mermaid. Maybe they’ll make a comeback soon, who knows?
What is this about?
In Ron Howard’s first directorial hit, Tom Hanks stars as workaholic Allen Bauer, who’s convinced he can’t fall in love until he’s rescued from a boating accident by the woman of his dreams — a mermaid named Madison (Daryl Hannah). But if the world discovers Madison’s secret, it will be sink or swim for the duo.
What did I like?
Mermaid. Two things about mermaids. First off, the last mermaids I saw in a movie were in the last Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and they weren’t exactly the loving, innocent type, but rather ruthless killing machines, except the one they took into captivity, of course. Second, mermaids are typically beautiful creatures, and a young Daryl Hannah was certainly fitting of that description. In the water, she really did look like a mermaid. I read somewhere that when she was a little girl learning to swim, she learned to do so with her legs together, similar to the way they had to be in the fin. So, one can say, this is a role she’s been groomed for since childhood.
Brothers. Tom Hanks and John Candy play brothers. Hanks is the one who finds himself in love with a vampire, but it is Candy who is a scene stealer. Let’s not overlook that these are both accomplished comedians and that chemistry they have is great. Having said that, I never really bought that they were from the same gene pool, especially looking at their younger versions, but when you have talent, that is something that can be overlooked very easily.
Love story. Make no mistake, for all the comedic moments that this film has, it is first and foremost a love story. Not just any love story, but a pretty good one, at that. I’m sure the more jaded of you out there will say something about how cheesy and cliché’ it is, and that is your opinion. For me, someone who has been known to have a “black hole where my heart is”, it worked.
What didn’t work?
Doctor, Doctor. Eugene Levy plays this rather shady scientist fellow who doesn’t reveal what it is he is looking for. He manages to catch a glimpse of Madison and he begins obsessing over proving that mermaids exist, even risking bodily harm to do so. Levy is a great comedic performer, but I felt like this was a character that should have been played a bit more straight, or if they wanted to go the full-on comedic route, then he should have been that way from the beginning.
Mythology. I’m not really up on my mermaid mythology, but I do know that they weren’t exactly wiped out by anything, which brings to question why it is that we don’t see any other mermaids. Even in the flashback scene at the film’s beginning, she is a little girl mermaid and not an adult mermaid in sight (not to mention the guy that saves Allen somehow doesn’t see her…but that’s a topic for another time). At the end of the film, we do see an underwater city, but that’s it. I don’t know, I just felt as if there should have been maybe a jealous merman chasing her…maybe even a crab, seagull, and flounder watching over her (kudos if you get that reference).
Water. A bit of inconsistency bothered me a bit. When Madison gets in the tub to be a mermaid again, she had to make it salt water, yet when Dr. Kornbluth sprayed her, it was just regular water (we assume). So, the question is, is it the water that makes fin out or does it have to be salt water? My belief is she can survive in salt water, but regular water will eventually kill her, as we see when she’s in the military tanks. I could be way off and/or over thinking it, though.
Splash is a product of its time, and a really good one at that. It is no wonder so many people have such fond memories of watching this. Personally, I prefer my mermaids to be animated, headstrong Disney princesses, but Madison isn’t bad, either. The few problems I have with the film are really nitpicky. I see no reason why you shouldn’t see this as soon as you can. I highly recommend it!
4 1/4 out of 5 stars