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Movie Review: Big Trouble

Review for 'Big Trouble'
Big Trouble
Genre: Comedy
Running Time: 85 min
MPAA rating: PG-13 (Adult Language, Adult Situations)
Release Date: 2002-04-05
Tags: There are no tags.
By "Chicago Tribune"

By Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune Staff Writer
(2 stars)
In the broad ensemble comedy "Big Trouble," director Barry Sonnenfeld displays the same lack of comedic wisdom that led him to put Will Smith in drag in "Wild Wild West."
The film is based on the book of the same name by humor columnist Dave Barry, and it stars Tim Allen as Eliot Arnold, a thinly veiled version of Barry who's climbing up from rock bottom after a divorce and the loss of his job.
Part crime noir, part comedy, "Big Trouble" is right in line with Barry's obsession with self-deprecation and his search for approval from his son. Ben Foster plays Arnold's son, Matt, whose high school water pistol hit-man game leads a chorus of characters (Rene Russo, Stanley Tucci, Jason Lee, Omar Epps, MTV's Johnny Knoxville, Janeane Garofalo and more) to cross paths with one another and a suitcase-size nuclear bomb.
"Big Trouble's" release was put on hold after September's terrorist attacks, and rightly so. The film targets inept airport security for laughs and showcases a climatic airborne fight that would have been inappropriate against the horror of a few months ago. The film has been reshot or re-edited to some extent since it was last screened for critics, but the filmmakers would have been better served to use the delay to make the movie funnier.
Sonnenfeld's "Get Shorty" had a smart script and John Travolta's unforced cool, while the director's "Men in Black" scored off the pairing of Smith and Tommy Lee Jones and an original sci-fi concept. Both projects positioned their straight-faced characters against comedic situations, and the laughs spilled out.
Perhaps learning from "Wild Wild West" a movie even star Smith cringed at Sonnenfeld refrains from making his stars run around in "wacky" mode and instead bumps them up against unstable (a.k.a. dumb) characters. This technique fizzles when everyone is stone-faced. Even Ben's love interest (Zooey Deschanel) is a passive, monotone figure.
Parts of "Big Trouble" do play to Sonnenfeld's strengths as a director, namely the treatment of ensemble casts. While a clumsy "Magnum P.I."-style voiceover links a few scenes, each character gets an introduction, back story and motivation. Example: The dramatic/romantic tension between Officer Walter Kramitz ("Seinfeld's" Patrick Warburton) and his tough partner Romero (Garofalo) stems from an incident in which a perpetrator tore open Romero's uniform, revealing her Victoria's Secret self.
Everyone gets to create three-dimensional characters, even if those characters don't do much. Even Allen holds onto his leading man status, despite an "everyman" performance not much different from his parts in "Joe Somebody" or "For Richer or Poorer" though being matched with the saucy Russo certainly doesn't hurt.
Mostly, though, Sonnenfeld mishandles the broad part of the comedic formula, preferring repetition to thematic development. Repeating a handful of mediocre jokes for example, an automatic seatbelt rakes the face of hit man Henry (Dennis Farina) time after time just doesn't do the trick.
"Big Trouble"
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld.; written by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone; photographed Greg Gardiner; edited by Steven Weisberg; production designed by Garreth Stover; produced Barry Sonnenfeld, Barry Josephson and Tom Jacobson. A Touchstone Pictures release; opens Friday, April 5. Running time: 1:25. MPAA rating: PG-13 (language, crude humor, sexual content).
Eliot Arnold Tim Allen
Anna Herk Rene Russo
Arthur Herk Stanley Tucci
Monica Romero Janeane Garofalo
Henry Dennis Farina
Matt Arnold Ben Foster

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Apr 23, 2008 - Chicago Tribune
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