One-hit wonders in the early 1980s, The Suburbans sported blue leather suits and teased, bouffant hairdos while singing their signature tune, 'By My Side.' But their dreams of rock-and-roll fame never panned out. Drummer Rory (Tony Guma) now sells insurance, and is dating single mother Lara (Bridgette Wilson). Bassist Gil (Will Ferrell) is about to marry a mobster's daughter. Guitarist Danny (Donal Lardner Ward) manages a debt-ridden nightclub while avoiding marriage to his long-term girlfriend Grace (Amy Brenneman). Only Mitch (Craig Bierko) is still pursuing music, albeit while working as a podiatrist.
Cate (Jennifer Love Hewitt), an executive at a trendy media company, catches a brief reunion of the band at Gil's wedding. She persuades the group to cash in on a possible 1980s nostalgia craze by signing a contract with her bosses Jules (Ben Stiller) and Speedo (Jerry Stiller). Cate arranges for The Suburbans to move into a house in the suburbs of Wantagh, Long Island, to rehearse. Grace begins to worry that Cate is trying to steal Danny away. A rock video shot by a cutting-edge Icelandic crew turns into a disaster. Sales for a pay-per-view concert are alarmingly low. Danny then discovers that Cate has been an obsessive fan of the group since her childhood, throwing into doubt the reasons for The Suburbans' reunion. After an argument with Grace, Danny goes on a drunken binge right before the group's final rehearsal for the pay-per-view special. The Suburbans may have to break up before they get their second chance at fame.
While the premise of The Suburbans has comic potential, almost nothing in the movie is funny. The script tries some weak jabs at easy targets like Kenny G and 'American Bandstand,' but pop music takes up a surprisingly small role in the plot. More attention is paid to the characters' romantic problems, which tend to be played straight, not for laughs. Screenwriters Guma and Ward give their characters numerous self-pitying bits that feel maudlin. Bierko has amusing moments, but his role is hopelessly underwritten, and he ends up with little to do. Actors like Ferrell, the Stillers, and especially Robert Loggia (who gets one camera set-up) barely have enough screen time to make impressions. On the other hand, Hewitt manages to seem fresh and appealing in a largely thankless part, and Brenneman brings some welcome depth to her character. Still, she can't salvage her frequent love scenes with Ward, a smarmy, unlikeable presence. After their third or fourth heart-to-heart talk, viewers may wonder if they're watching a second-rate soap opera instead of a comedy.
Pacing is lackadaisical, with many scenes simply falling apart before they're over. Production values are adequate, although the film has the look and feel of straight-to-video product. Bland and improbable, The Suburbans can't muster the energy of mediocre films like Still Crazy (which has a curiously similar plot). Viewers will understandably expect more than the few weak laughs offered here.