Screenplay : Robert Ramsey & Matthew Stone (based on the novel by Dave Berry)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2002
Stars : Tim Allen (Eliot Arnold), Rene Russo (Anna Herk), Stanley Tucci (Arthur Herk), Jason Lee (Puggy), Ben Foster (Matt Arnold), Zooey Deschanel (Jenny Herk), Omar Epps (Pat Greer), Heavy D (Alan Seitz), Dennis Farina (Henry Algott), Jack Kehler (Leonard), Patrick Warburton (Walter Kramitz), Janeane Garofalo (Monica Ramiro), Tom Sizemore (Snake), Johnny Knoxville (Eddie), Sofía Vergara (Nina )
Following the big-budget debacle of 1999's Wild Wild West, director Barry Sonnenfeld apparently felt the need to downsize for his next film, opting to helm an adaptation of syndicated humorist Dave Berry's novel Big Trouble, which finds the paths of a gaggle of oddball characters, from a miserable housewife, to a tree-dwelling hippie, to a pair of New Jersey hitmen, chaotically intersecting in Miami over a couple of days. The pairing of Berry's trenchant, observant humor and Sonnenfeld's hip, comic aesthetic would seem to be a match made in heaven, and there are times when Big Trouble comes close to soaring.
Although Tim Allen is given first billing, Big Trouble is an ensemble piece, with no one character standing out above the others. If there's a theme, it's the sheer oddity of that thing we call life, although the plot is so amusingly contrived and outlandish in its coincidences that no one could ever mistake it for anything resembling reality. People like the characters in this movie probably do exist (God help us), but the chances of all of them coming together at one point in time is surely a mathematical impossibility.
The basic run-down: Allen plays Eliot Arnold, a divorced advertising agent who once wrote a popular column for the Miami Herald before crossing paths with the new editor-in-chief. Eliot is despised by his teenage son, Matt (Ben Foster), who sees him as a loser, primarily because he drives a Geo. (On a side note, the movie's treatment of the entire Geo line of automobiles is a hilarious turn-around on traditional product placements. I can't remember the last time I've seen a product so thoroughly and exactingly derided by virtually every character in the movie; at one point, a character declares that 60% of each Geo is made out of recycled plastic bottles.)
Matt is involved in a game with his fellow high school students that involves sneaking around and shooting each other with water pistols. His intended target is Jenny (Zooey Deschanel), the stepdaughter of a corrupt, alcoholic, foot-obsessed businessman named Arthur Herk (Stanley Tucci) and his miserable wife, Anna (Rene Russo). A pair of hitmen from New Jersey (Dennis Farina and Jack Kehler) has been called down to Miami to off Arthur for skimming off the top of his business. The hitmen, however, keep getting interrupted by Ben's play-kill antics, which they mistake for the real thing.
This brings in a couple of cops, Walter (Patrick Warburton) and Monica (Janeane Garofalo), who then get further involved when Arthur's attempt to purchase a missile (he's an arms dealer on the side) is sidetracked by a pair of inept ex-cons (Tom Sizemore and Johnny Knoxville of MTV's Jackass). Of course, that's just part of the story. Also involved are two FBI agents (Heavy D and Omar Epps), who constantly invoke an obscure legality to run roughshod over civil rights, and the aforementioned tree-dwelling hippie (Jason Lee), who is obsessed with Fritos and is at one point mistaken for Jesus Christ by the Herks' live-in maid, Nina (Sofía Vergara), over whose feet Arthur obsesses.
Part of the pleasure of Big Trouble is watching how all these disconnected characters get involved in each other's misguided antics (not a single character here seems to have a clue about what is going on). The story is narrated by Eliot, who is given a voice-of-God kind of omniscience that supplies crucial past details, most of which are the quirky, unexpected sort that make Dave Berry's newspaper columns so much fun to read. Berry doesn't quite limit himself to just quirkiness, though, as he throws in a few unexpected devices that are truly weird, including an oversized frog that shoots a hallucinogenic liquid, which at one point leads to what will surely being the strangest cameo by Martha Stewart in a movie ever.
All of this tangled mess eventually leads to a climax at the airport, as the ex-cons attempt to escape to the Bahamas with a suitcase carrying a nuclear bomb (of course, being the idiots that they are, they have no idea that it's a nuclear bomb--they think it's a garbage disposal). It is for this reason that the film was delayed from its initially scheduled release last fall, shortly after the events of September 11. The humor derived from the ineptness of airport security as a group of obviously unrelated people all claiming to be named "John Smith" try to board a plane with a nuclear weapon plays surprisingly well now given some much-needed distance from last fall. In fact, in terms of cutting to the bone and splitting hairs between the funny and the uncomfortable, it comes close to being a masterstroke, albeit one that was completely unpremeditated.
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick