Review by Dustin Putman
2½ stars out of 4
Based on the novel by humorist Dave Berry, "Big Trouble" is an all-star
screwball comedy along the lines of 2001's "Rat Race." Running at
a fast pace and, at only 85 minutes, ending even faster, the film
is an entertaining fluff piece filled to the rim with big-name actors
who all look to be having a blast. Unfortunately, having such a brief
running time means compromising the development of any of the characters
satisfactorily, but they're all fun to watch and coast on their natural abilities.
Set in the crazy world of Miami, Eliot Arnold (Tim Allen) is a former
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who now runs his own ad agency.
Divorced and disliked by his teenage son, Matt (Ben Foster), who delights
in an assassination game involving water pistols with his friends,
Eliot's life is turned upside down when he inexplicably gets involved
with a metal suitcase that secretly has a bomb inside. The suitcase
soon ends up in the hands of, in chronological order, Russian arms
dealers, foot fetishist Arthur Herk (Stanley Tucci), and two trailer
trash dimwits named Snake (Tom Sizemore) and Eddie (Johnny Knoxville).
Also figuring into the plot are Arthur's fed-up wife, Anna (Rene Russo),
who take's a liking to Eliot; Anna's daughter, Jenny (Zooey Deschanel),
who is friends with Matt; two bumbling cops (Janeane Garofalo, Patrick
Warburton); two federal agents (Omar Epps, Dwayne 'Heavy D' Meyers);
a down-on-his-luck hitman (Dennis Farina); the Herk's maid (Sofia
Vergara); and a vagrant with a love for Fritos (Jason Lee).
If the plot sounds somewhat complicated, don't let the description
and wide range of characters fool you. "Big Trouble," directed by
Barry Sonnenfeld (1999's "Wild Wild West"), is just about as simple
as they come, in a preposterous sort of way. The story doesn't make
a whole lot of logical sense, posing as an excuse to line up the fabulous
star players and let them work their magic. For most of the film,
that is what the majority do.
The two exceptions, ironically, are the two supposed central characters,
Eliot and Anna. For all of the laughs and delightful banter between
castmates, Tim Allen (2001's "Joe Somebody") and Rene Russo (2002's
"Showtime") practically seem nonexistent in their roles compared to
all of the standouts next to them. They have next to nothing to do
and, aside from a playfully absurd scene in which they make out and
destroy an office in the process, aren't offered the type of comic work everyone else is.
The most crucial strength of "Big Trouble" is the laid-back camaraderie
all of the supporter players share. Ben Foster (2001's "Get Over It"),
Zooey Deschanel (2000's "Almost Famous"), and DJ Qualls (2000's "Road
Trip"), as the teen friends involved in the water pistol game, get
several memorable moments. Deschanel is an especially adept actress
who, with more to do, can be exceptional (see "Almost Famous" now!).
Janeane Garofalo (1999's "Mystery Men") is her usual great self, with
caustic attitude and dry humor to spare. The back-and-forth banter
she shares with the equally fine Patrick Warburton (2000's "Scream
3") is one of the film's strong points.
To watch "Big Trouble" is to have a truly great time at the movies
as you see how the many characters savvily interconnect. A plot development
involving a bomb on a plane, which was the cause for this film's delay
after 9-11 (it was originally schedule to be released two weeks after),
is thankfully not disturbing or eerie. Instead, a joke about the inadequacies
of airline security is hilarious. The same goes with the peculiarly
loving relationship between a dog and a frog, and an ongoing joke
about a group of runaway goats.
With that said, it comes as an unmistakable disappointment when the
film comes to an end so quickly. With so much potential, and a clever
screenplay by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone, it is a letdown when
it comes to the very same thing that is the movie's best aspect: the
characters. As enjoyable as they all are, they are also empty, making
the movie seem the same way. For entertainment value, things don't
get much better than "Big Trouble." But when it comes to the potential-to-payoff
ratio, things don't get much more frustrating.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman