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1 item from 2002


Big Trouble

3 April 2002 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

"Big Trouble" is a smorgasbord of comedy -- there's farce, slapstick, black humor, theater of cruelty, clever ripostes, non sequiturs, absurdity, romantic comedy and a toad that spits hallucinogenic juice. When everything is done, however, you have that bloated, overindulged feeling where too many good things got mixed up together and ingested all at once. Did you enjoy it? Well, for a while yes, and for much longer no.

There's no denying that "Trouble" contains a few spectacularly funny scenes. But the filmmakers keep pushing the jokes at the expense of character until things fall apart. You don't get casts much more talented than this one, and director Barry Sonnenfeld does a smooth job of keeping all the plates spinning as long as humanly possible. But the film implodes from excess long before a nuclear bomb -- yes, that's a nuclear bomb -- explodes for the "comic" finale. While perhaps not a boxoffice bomb for Disney, audiences may react negatively to the sheer strain of watching a film where people must work very hard at being lighthearted.

"Big Trouble", of course, ran into big trouble more than half a year ago when Sept. 11 forever changed our world. Its release was postponed because of the terrorist attacks, but it may be at least a generation before anyone finds funny the sight of characters running around airports with a nuclear device and lax security personnel waving a bomb through checkpoints. At best, the film has an extremely dated feel. At worst, the film is a serious misreading of its source material, a novel by humorist Dave Barry.

The renowned Miami Herald columnist is adept at seizing incidents from everyday life and reducing these to such absurdity a reader cannot contain his laughter. On paper, "Big Trouble" was, no doubt, hilarious. Onscreen, the novel's exaggeration takes on a flimsy silliness. Writers Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone aren't entirely to blame for rushing from one great gag to another. They are funny, but context is everything. The context of Dave Barry is a writer playing with a reader's mind, not a Hollywood production that reduces everything to unwanted literalness.

Trouble starts when a Miami arms dealer receives a nuclear bomb that everyone insists looks like a garbage disposal. At the same moment, a couple of hit men, Dennis Farina and Jack Kehler, arrive in Florida to eliminate Stanley Tucci, a corrupt businessman whose has embezzled money from his equally criminal employers.

Meanwhile, in a harmless game called "Killer", Tucci's daughter, Zooey Deschanel, is being "stalked" by schoolmate Ben Foster, the son of Tim Allen, a former Miami newspaper columnist. (Hmmm, who can that be?) So while Tucci is sexually harassing family maid Sofia Vergara and Allen is falling for Rene Russo, Tucci's wife, the kid "Killers" mess up an assassination attempt by the real killers, bringing police officers Janeane Garofalo and Patrick Warburton to the scene.

Further complicating the assassins' task are a couple of crooks who together do not possess the IQ of a single stupid person, Tom Sizemore and Johnny Knoxville; two of the strangest FBI agents in history, Omar Epps and Dwight "Heavy D" Myers; and Jason Lee, a fellow who lives in a tree and is often mistaken for Jesus.

This is not a plot you want to spend too much time describing or analyzing. The object is to deliver a series of gags such as guys robbing a bar in masks that render them virtually blind, or a retractable seat belt in their rental car that drives the hit men crazy.

But the movie all too swiftly abandons its characters and situations in favor of these gags. Since when are characters and comedy mutually exclusive?

The best thing about "Trouble" are its actors, who never abandon their characters even when the movie does. The below-the-line work is solid from James Newton Howard's pleasant, Latin-flavored musical score to Greg Gardiner's lensing, Garreth Stover's exaggerated Miami sets and Steven Weisberg's editing, which keeps things moving at a swift pace.

BIG TROUBLE

Buena Vista Pictures

Touchstone Pictures presents a Jacobson Co. and Sonnenfeld/Josephson Worldwide Entertainment production

Producers:Barry Sonnenfeld, Barry Josephson, Tom Jacobson

Director:Barry Sonnenfeld

Screenwriters:Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone

Based on the novel by:Dave Barry

Executive producer:Jim Wedaa

Director of photography:Greg Gardiner

Production designer:Garreth Stover

Music:James Newton Howard

Co-producer:Graham Place

Costume designer:Mary Vogt

Editor:Steven Weisberg

Color/stereo

Cast:

Elliot Arnold:Tim Allen

Anna Herk:Rene Russo

Arthur Herk:Stanley Tucci

Snake:Tom Sizemore

Eddie:Johnny Knoxville

Henry:Dennis Farina

Leonard:Jack Kehler

Monica Romero:Janeane Garofalo

Walter Kramitz:Patrick Warburton

Matt Arnold:Ben Foster

Jenny Herk:Zooey Deschanel

Running time -- 84 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13

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1 item from 2002


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