Watching director George Armitage's movie "The Big Bounce" (*** out of ****), an enjoyable small-time crime comedy starring Owen Wilson, Morgan Freeman, Charlie Sheen, Willie Nelson, and Gary Sinise, is rather like being scammed. Armitage distracts us during the first 80 minutes of this frivolous film-flammer, based on best selling writer Elmore Leonard's first crime novel, with Jeffrey L. Kimball's picture-postcard photography of Hawaii; gorgeous bikini-clad Sara Foster as the embodiment of a sexy siren; and garrulous, surfer dude Owen Wilson as a lowbrow, blue collar hero, so he can contrive a clever ending in the last few minutes. No, chances are you won't see the twist of an ending heading your way, even though Armitage and scenarist Sebastian Gutierrez of "Gothika" hurl a hint or two early on in that direction. Creamed by most critics as uninspired and anemic, this believable but lackadaisical con game features several genuinely funny situations; a gallery of quirky characters; some quotable dialogue, and a leisurely pace Armitage imparts with his low-key, unobtrusive helming. Incidentally, Armitage's "Big Bounce" qualifies as a vastly superior remake of the lackluster 1969 original with Ryan O'Neal, Leigh Taylor-Young, and Van Heflin.
Ideally cast as an anti-heroic panhandler with a proclivity for boosting hot cars and burglarizing homes, Owen Wilson indulges himself as smooth-talking protagonist Jack Ryan, a role he was born to play. Don't confuse this Jack Ryan with super-spy Jack Ryan from Tom Clancy techno-thrillers such as "A Clear and Present Danger" or "Patriot Games." Actually, the Leonard novel appeared in print long before Clancy took pen in hand for his bestsellers about his own Jack Ryan. Anyway, as this Jack Ryan reveals in the opening voice-over narration, he wound up on Oahu's North Shore, because he ran out of places to run. As Jack sums up his life, he describes his two best friends as 'bad luck' and 'bad choices.' Essentially, Jack considers himself 'semi-retired' from petty crime. No sooner has Jack wrangled a construction job working for unscrupulous real estate developer Ray Ritchie (Gary Sinise of "Forrest Gump"), a villainous millionaire who wants to bulldoze paradise for a new high-rise resort, than he clashes with Ray's menacing foreman Lou Harris (ex-British soccer star Vinnie Jones of "Snatch").
As the story opens, native American Hawaiians are picketing Ray Ritchie's construction site. During this shutdown, some workers get up a game of softball. Jack picks up an aluminum baseball bat to take a swat when Harris intervenes. Harris orders everybody back to work. Jack complains, and Harris cans him. When Jack loiters on the premises, Harris threatens him with bodily harm. Consequently, a frightened Jack clobbers Harris with the bat and lays the bully out cold while a TV news crew records the incident. After a brief stint in the local jail, Jack gets out, and Ritchie's lame-brained, right-hand man, Bob Rogers, Jr., (Charlie Sheen of "Platoon") warns Jack to clear out of Hawaii.
Meanwhile, District Judge Walter Crewes ( Morgan Freeman of "Bruce Almighty") cottons to Jack, because when the latter hit Harris, he halted construction. Walter feels absolutely no sympathy for wicked Ray Ritchie. Ritchie's future motel will put Walter's scenic bungalow resort out of business. Largely to aggravate both Ritchie and Bob, Jr., Walter offers Jack a job as a handyman for $300 a week. Along comes beautiful, fawn-like Nancy Hayes (ex-model Sara Foster in her film debut) who sleeps with Ray when Ray isn't shacking up with his alcoholic wife, Alison (Bebe Neuwirth of "Jumanji"), who has everything registered in her name. Walter warns Jack about Nancy, while an angry Bob Jr., warns Jack about the wages of staying in Hawaii. "One of us is going to leave here uglier that he was before," Bob threatens our hero. "That's not fair," Jack drawls with a shrug, "I've got a head start on you." It helps matters considerably that Owen Wilson willingly pokes fun at his misshapen nose. Nothing the judge says can stop Jack from hooking up with Nancy. Nancy lives for danger, so Jack shows her how to steal cars. In turn, Nancy tells Jack about $200-thousand dollars Ray Ritchie has lying in a vault in his house. According to Nancy, Ray plans to pay off local gangsters to keep the natives off his construction site. Jack can neither take his eyes off Nancy nor his mind off an easy-as-pie heist.
Director George Armitage learned his craft under the tutelage of legendary producer Roger Corman. While "The Big Bounce" isn't as violent or as imaginative as either of Armitage's previous efforts "Miami Blues" and "Grosse Pointe Blank," he keeps things humming as everybody plots against Jack to make him the fall guy. Owen Wilson delivers what qualifies as his best performance ever. Wilson and Foster dominate the antics of this crime comedy of errors with their romance, while Freeman, Sheen, Neuwirth, and Sinise meander in and out of the action. Compared to earlier Elmore Leonard cinematic adaptations, "The Big Bounce" isn't as good as "Jackie Brown," "Out of Sight," or "Get Shorty," but it manages to be consistently amusing when it isn't visually resplendent.
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