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Big Trouble

movie review out of 4 Movie Review: Big Trouble

Starring: Tim Allen, Rene Russo
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 85 Minutes
Release Date: April 2002
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Daniel London, Flip Schultz, Sofia Vergara, Zooey Deschanel, Ben Foster, Andy Richter, Patrick Warburton, Jack Kehler, Omar Epps

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
½ star out of 4

It's a hot summer day and you've been driving on the interstate for hours. Your gum went dead a long time ago and you're ready for a large, icy tumbler of cherry Coke. After what seems like forever, you reach an exit and pull up to the window of some fast food joint, where you purchase the largest size cola on the menu. Back on the interstate, you put the straw to your lips and take a drink, only to discover that the cherry Coke is flat. After grumbling to yourself, you try to make the best of it, but it just doesn't work. Sure, the ingredients are there, but there is no satisfaction without the fizz.

And that is what's wrong with "Big Trouble." The ingredients are there - a talented director, a large cast packed with gifted actors and a screenplay based on a book by a Pulitzer Prize winning writer - but the comedy lacks fizz and, time after time, one-liners clearly intended to have the audience in stitches fall flat.

Before plunging into what went wrong, let's take a look at the who's who of the film. "Big Trouble" was directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, the man behind "The Addams Family," "Get Shorty" and "Men in Black." Of course, he was also the mastermind responsible for the godawful big screen adaptation of "Wild Wild West." The source material is the first novel by Dave Barry, whose syndicated humor column is very popular.

Tim Allen heads up a cast that is a veritable laundry list of cool, including sultry Rene Russo and silver-haired hipster Dennis Farina, indie film favorites Janeane Garofalo and Jason Lee, hilarious "Seinfeld" man-mountain Patrick Warburton, plus Omar Epps, Tom Sizemore, Stanley Tucci and Dwight "Heavy D" Myers.

The late critic Gene Siskel said you could measure the success of a movie by asking yourself which would be more entertaining: watching the actors in the film or listening to them as they had dinner together. As regards "Big Trouble," the answer is "Get thee to a restaurant as fast as humanly possible!"

Incidentally, much as had been made of the fact that the release of "Big Trouble" was postponed at the last moment because a storyline involving the smuggling of a nuclear bomb past airport security personnel was deemed distasteful in light of the Sept. 11 atrocities. I've seen the movie twice, the first time a few days before the tragedy and the second time last night and, trust me, it wasn't funny on either occasion.

The overwritten screenplay, by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone, opens with a monologue by Puggy (Lee), a starry-eyed homeless guy with a passing resemblance to Jesus, whose love of Fritos leads him to Miami, where he ends up earning a few bucks working at a dumpy bar run by Russian mobsters, and living in a tree. From his perch, he watches the goings-on of a local family, with Dad (Tucci) sneaking past his wife and daughter (Russo and Zooey Deschanel) to try and suck the toes of the horrified maid (Sofia Vergara). The house becomes a magnet for trouble. An ex-writer (Allen) is drawn there when his son's (Ben Foster) nocturnal squirt gun activities with the daughter cause a pair of police officers (Warburton and Garofalo) to investigate the disturbance.

Meanwhile, a pair of hitmen (Farina and Jack Kehler) approach the house, prepared to whack the toe-sucker for a bad debt. Two idiot crooks (Sizemore and Johnny Knoxville) are also on the scene, trying to retrieve a nuclear warhead purchased by Pappy. The resultant fuss brings a couple FBI agents (Epps and Myers) into the fray.

By the time the absurdly busy storyline reaches its would-be riotous third act, several cast members get hauled to the airport by the crooks, who are trying to get the warhead out of the country, while everybody else chases them.

Oh, did I forget to mention the goats and the toad whose toxin causes the foot fetish father to hallucinate Martha Stewart's face on a dog?

If only the movie was as humorous as it is imaginative. Unfortunately, most of the jokes don't work, in part because of inflection. Sonnenfeld pairs up his actors into straight men and wise guys, with sarcasm or deadpan the preferred delivery methods. The pattern grows old fast. As lame as "Big Trouble" is, though, I will likely rent the DVD, because the outtakes of such a great cast will surely be a hoot. In fact, I suspect this is the kind of production that would have been funnier if the director had released the outtakes theatrically and used the film as a bonus feature on the DVD.

Copyright 2002 Edward Johnson-Ott

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