Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
With the arrival of Big Trouble on DVD, we conclude the home video releases of a peculiar trilogy. While the tragic events of September 11 2001 clearly affected many things in the entertainment world, it directly moved back the distribution of at least three prominent films. Trouble, Windtalkers and Collateral Damage all were supposed to show up on screens in the fall of 2001, but studio execs decided they all hit too close to home to release them at that time.
So they got moved back to various times during 2002. Collateral Damage showed up first back in February, where it took in a lackluster $40 million. Windtalkers didnít arrive until June, and it raked in a similarly weak $40 million. Right in the middle, Big Trouble made it to screens, and it nabbed a pathetic $7 million. Would any of these movies have done better if they appeared during their original release schedules? I donít know. While the delays didnít help, none of the flicks seemed terribly good either, so these flicks may simply have bombed because audiences werenít interested in them.
Of the three 9/11 delays, Trouble offered the most pleasant surprise. I didnít expect much from the screwball comedy but thought it actually provided a moderately fun and loose affair. It tossed out just enough wacky moments to make it enjoyable.
Attempts to synopsize the plot will be difficult, mainly because Big Trouble includes about a billion characters. Nonetheless, Iíll try. Eliot Arnold (Tim Allen) used to work as a very popular Miami newspaper columnist. However, Eliot goes off on his editor on the same day he discovers his wifeís cheating on him, so he finds different work and opens his own not-so-successful ad agency.
Puggy (Jason Lee) comes to town from Boston to get good Cuban food because he loves corn chips. He encounters ex-cons Snake Dupree (Tom Sizemore) and Eddie Ledbetter (Johnny Knoxville) at a bar. Snake beats up Puggy and takes his money, but the barís owners scare him away with a baseball bat, which sets Snake into revenge mode.
Two paid assassins Ė Henry (Dennis Farina) and Leonard (Jack Kehler) come to town to kill embezzler Arthur Herk (Stanley Tucci); the foot-fetisher sucks the toes of maid Nina (Sofia Vergara). Events converge on the Herk mansion, where we also meet his Martha Stewart-obsessed wife Anna (Rene Russo) and cynical teen daughter Jenny (Zooey Deschanel). Accompanied by buddy Andrew (DJ Qualls), Eliotís teen son Matt (Ben Foster) comes to the home to ďkillĒ Jenny with his Super Soaker.
Eventually all parties converge on the Herk home. I wonít bother to explain the set-up for this Ė itíd take too long Ė but that house acts as the meeting place for all these characters along with cops Monica Ramirez (Janeane Garofalo) and Walter Kramitz (Patrick Warburton) and FBI agents Pat Greer (Dwight ďHeavy DĒ Myers) and Alan Seitz (Omar Epps). Much of the story revolves around a mysterious device that looks like a garbage disposal but apparently possesses more lethal potential.
While I donít want to give away too much of the story, that device caused the release delay of Big Trouble. One scene depicts our characters as they slip it through airport security without too much trouble. I guess the studio execs thought that would be too troubling in the days right after September 11, and they might have been right, though the sceneís satirical intent seems too clear for it to be anything upsetting.
With all those major characters, Big Trouble could have been a muddled mess, but surprisingly, director Barry Sonnenfeld keeps things loose and fast enough to make it work. He integrates the characters quite well. None of them receive much definition; the movie only runs 85 minutes, which doesnít leave much time for development, especially given all the plot exposition that needs to appear.
Nonetheless, the amount of delineation given to the participants feels just about right. The movie doesnít require deep character exploration and probably works better with them treated in a fairly superficial manner. The film places a greater emphasis on situational gags than on character elements, so we learn just enough about the participants to make them work.
It helps that Sonnenfeld amasses a pretty solid cast. Though he probably wonít ever contend for an Oscar, Tim Allenís shown definite growth as an actor over the years. I watched Trouble the same day I checked out Allenís biggest live-action hit, 1994ís The Santa Clause. In that flick, he basically played an extension of his stand-up act personality, but he shows more depth in Trouble. Given his limited screen time, that improvement seems pretty impressive.
I donít know if Iíd call Allen the lead character, but heís probably as close as weíll get. Heís clearly the voice of original author Dave Barry, and he also acts as narrator for the tale and as its de facto hero. However, I donít think he receives substantially more screen time than anyone else.
The rest of the cast fill their roles admirably. While I canít say any of them stood out, I also discerned no significant weaknesses. Actually, perhaps the most impressive supporting performance comes from Deschanel. She makes Jenny seem like the model of teen disillusionment with very little effort.
Not everything about Trouble seems sunny, as the movie occasionally oversteps its aims. At times, the action seems way too busy and forced. Sonnenfeld tosses so many gags at the viewer that inevitably, many of them will fall flat. The movie simply seems a little too eager to please on occasion, and Sonnenfeld doesnít appear to trust the material well enough to let us get a moment to savor anything.
Nonetheless, enough of the comedy works effectively to make Big Trouble an enjoyable experience. Dark comedies are a tricky genre. For every winner like Ruthless People, youíll find scads of duds like Drowning Mona. While Trouble doesnít approach the heights of the former, it avoids the pitfalls of the latter and provides a generally entertaining program.