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Big Trouble   B

Touchstone Pictures

Year Released: 2002
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Writers: Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone (based on the novel by Dave Barry)
Cast: Tim Allen, Rene Russo, Stanley Tucci, Dennis Farina, Ben Foster, Janeane Garofalo, Omar Epps, Tom Sizemore, Johnny Knoxville, Jason Lee.

Review by Rob Vaux

Poor Big Trouble. It really deserved a better hand than the fates dealt. Originally scheduled for release last September, it was bumped -- along with several other films -- in the wake of September 11. Considering that the climax concerns a hijacked plane, such prudence was probably wise: we didn't find that stuff very funny last fall. But timing is everything in comedy, and the delay robbed the publicity of any momentum. Judging by the weekend returns, Big Trouble seems to have missed the boat... which is a pity, because it's quite an entertaining little jaunt.

Rarely has "zany mayhem" more aptly described a movie plot. Director Barry Sonnenfeld has crafted a densely packed format (based on the novel from columnist Dave Barry) requiring over a dozen important parts... including one filled by a giant South American frog. As an excuse to make jokes, it functions well enough, and manages to fit a considerable amount of twists and turns into a tight 85 minutes. The ostensible narrator (Tim Allen) is a former columnist for the Miami Herald who now works as a struggling ad creator. His son (Ben Foster) thinks he's a total loser -- he drives a Geo, after all -- and he himself is hard-pressed to disagree. But that's before the lad heads over to a friend's house to squirt her with a Super Soaker -- there's a game of Assassin going on -- only to run into two real hit men there to nail the girl's asinine stepfather (Stanley Tucci)... who's involved in arms dealing with a pair of sleazy Russians... who are robbed by two morons (Tom Sizemore and Johnny Knoxville) looking for a big score... who have it in for a Christ-like hippie (Jason Lee) freshly arrived in town... who lives in a tree and spies on Tucci's gorgeous maid. Also, there's a nuclear bomb.

To quote the author, "I am not making this up."

Big Trouble essentially functions as one giant comedy sketch. The plot has no purpose other than make us laugh, and the characters are all broadly defined, to better facilitate the yucks. Sonnenfeld effectively recreates Barry's breezy style, and makes good use of the Miami locale (I suspect there's more than a few in-town references scattered amid the landscape). The gags are fairly clever, and most of them work just fine. It doesn't hurt to throw plenty of funny people into the mix. Barry's humor depends on the foibles of human nature, and the strong cast brings those foibles out admirably. The straight men do best -- Dennis Farina's put-upon killer, Janeane Garofalo as a smart cop trying to hold onto her dignity, and Tucci's gloriously obnoxious putz -- but the rest of the cast manages as well; Lee coasts along congenially, and Sizemore earns the dubious distinction of out-nit-witting Johnny Knoxville. Ironically, the only one who seems to struggle is Allen, the supposed lead. With so many other characters on-screen, he has to fight to make an impression, and his character's laid-back attitude keep him from standing out. Ditto Rene Russo, a fine comedienne, in the relatively thankless role of paramour. Despite that, no one really hits a wrong note, and most dance deftly around the script's few weak spots.

Add to that Sonnenfeld's relatively disciplined direction, which dispenses with every nonessential element in an effort to keep things on track. Big Trouble feels very busy most of the time, but each piece of information has a purpose. Nothing feels superfluous or unnecessary, which is quite an achievement considering the chaos it's documenting. Such expediency lets us concentrate on the humor, rather than trying to figure out who's doing what. Though it can't match Sonnenfeld's best work, Big Trouble is more than up to the task before it. The winds of history have swept it under the rug -- and it wouldn't have lingered long anyway -- but that doesn't mean it can't reward filmgoers out for a good time. Give it a try; you won't be disappointed.

Review published 04.09.2002.

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