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.
©2002 by Dustin Putman