Starring: Owen Wilson, Morgan Freeman (I), Gary Sinise, Sara Foster
3 out of 10 stars
I have no objections to celebrity vacations, or Hawaiian vacations, or even celebrity Hawaiian vacations, but when you try to pass off your celebrity Hawaiian vacation as an actual movie, then I have to stand up and raise a fuss. The Big Bounce could easily be subtitled Owen Wilson's Surfing Safari, as it seems nothing but an excuse for a bunch of actors to fly to Oahu, drink beer on the beach, surf a bit, and wander occasionally in front of a camera to get somebody else to pay for it (in this case, Warner Bros., victim of a scam greater than any in this film). The film's one stroke of genius is its attempt to pass off all this laconic, smart-aleck shambling as an adaptation of a loosey-goosey Elmore Leonard story, where shady characters, crazy goofballs and loveable losers are the author's stock-in-trade (it was originally filmed in 1969 with a young Ryan O'Neal in his feature film debut). But when your movie's barely ninety minutes long and padded out with so much extraneous footage of Hawaiian surf, sand and sun that you start to itch at the notion of too much tropical paradise, you might as well call a spade a spade: this is your Aunt Martha's vacation slide show, with Owen Wilson and Morgan Freeman putting in special guest appearances.
Bounce finds a tanned, shaggy Wilson as itinerant troublemaker Jack Ryan (no, not that one), a man with a vaguely shady past who's hightailed it to Hawaii to stay out of harm's way. Fat chance, as his work on the construction of a new resort is stymied by a big galoot (Vinnie Jones, first on Wilson's invite list for the trip) who's the muscle for the resort's developer (Gary Sinise). Taken under the wing of a sympathetic judge (Freeman, slumming but obviously enjoying his beer), Jack does some handyman jobs at Freeman's bungalow hotel until shapely blonde Nancy (Sara Foster) catches his eye. Her idea of flirting is committing petty crimes (breaking and entering, stealing a car, etc etc) and soon they've stepped up to heavy petting, as Nancy wants to bilk $200K from the guy she's having an affair with. (If you knew before you finished reading that sentence that it's Sinise she's boinking, you're way ahead of this flick already.) Jack's wary but ultimately game, despite the stumbling blocks of the developer's lackey (Charlie Sheen in a bad mustache), a debt-ridden pal (Gregory Sporleder) and the surly wife (Bebe Neuwirth) for whom Nancy's been stepping in.
This being Elmore Leonard country, there are supposed to be wacky capers and double crosses aplenty, but the hijinks resemble more of an open-faced sandwich than a tightly constructed scam. Fitting the pieces together is more a process of elimination than deciphering any motivation behind any action, and it's all just kind of there. It's lazy structuring in a movie that's equally lazy in technique, although director George Armitage tries for some of the freehanded, semi-spontaneous chemistry between Wilson and Foster that he got out of John Cusack and Minnie Driver in Grosse Pointe Blank. Alas, Wilson and Foster aren't half as smart as Cusack and Driver, and nothing they do their romancing, their sparring, their capering has any weight to it. Foster does resemble Mia Farrow in her early 70s incarnation, but with longer hair and a feral streak underneath her trembling lips; still, she's not incendiary enough to jump off the screen or even get a rise out of Wilson.
As for the star himself, one has to wonder if he's taken a cue from frequent co-star Ben Stiller and is aggressively trying to run his career into the ground by playing the laziest versions possible of his standard persona. If you thought Wilson was a goofy beach-boy before, here's the literal proof, as the movie takes a leisurely time-out to watch him surf and show off his California-boy body -- he seems to be playing a Ken-doll version of himself. The Hawaiian setting is almost superfluous to the action, as the story could have been set absolutely anywhere (though one scene does require Wilson and Foster skinny dip in the ocean sorry, no skin). Everyone seems to be having a pretty good time though, even Willie Nelson and Harry Dean Stanton, who show up out of nowhere for some drinks and dominoes. Almost makes you wish you had been there instead of having to watch it. Owen next time you do a location shoot with your pals, put me on the guest list, would ya? Thanks!