Dir: Barry Sonnenfeld. US. 2002. 84 mins.
Delayed from last September because of its stolen bomb and plane hijacking plot points, Barry Sonnenfeld's Big Trouble arrives belatedly on US screens as a lightweight but pleasantly zany farce with a never-ending supply of gags and a more than capable ensemble cast to deliver them. The laughs aren't huge, but they are frequent enough to keep audiences satisfied, although this family friendly romp opened to only $3.5m from 1,961 sites in its opening weekend. Ancillary prospects look stronger. The events of September 11 certainly would have stifled the laughter six months ago - and the reportedly unaltered film still contains a couple of awkward references - but they shouldn't affect Big Trouble's performance too much now.
The script, by Robert Ramsay and Matthew Stone (who previously collaborated on Eddie Murphy's Life and Destiny Turns On The Radio), is based on the first novel by Florida humorist Dave Barry and nicely captures the feel of the Barry/Carl Hiaasen school of popular comic fiction. Comic Tim Allen stars as Eliot Arnold, a recently divorced, recently fired newspaper columnist. When Eliot's son Matt (Foster, from Get Over It) plays a prank on school-friend Jenny (Deschanel, from Almost Famous) he inadvertently plunges Dad into a bewildering world of Miami low-lifes.
Jenny's wealthy, pompous father Arthur (Tucci), it turns out, has been embezzling from his 'businessmen' bosses and become the target of a visiting New York hitman (Farina). To protect himself, Arthur buys a nuclear bomb from some shady Russians. The bomb draws the attention of two dumb-as-dirt locals (Sizemore and Knoxville), whose bumbling attempt to make off with the booty - and with hostage Jenny leads the cast on a race through the streets of Miami and then onto a hijacked plane bound for the Bahamas. Following the action, with various motivations, are, among others, Jenny's love-starved mother Anna (Russo), an odd-couple of Miami's finest (Garofalo and Warburton), a hippy mystic (Lee), two FBI agents (rapper-turned-actor Heavy D and Epps) and, just for good measure, a herd of stray goats.
With so many characters - and so much plot - to juggle, Sonnenfeld keeps things moving at a breezy pace and gives the film a nicely complimentary visual style (as he did in his sharper-edged but somewhat similar 1995 hit Get Shorty). The gags are mostly throwaway, but they're staged with enough vaudevillian flair to make them work and no one comic set-up is ever allowed to outstay its welcome on screen. The laugh rate diminishes as the film goes on but by wrapping up the action in a swift 84 minutes Sonnenfeld ensures that the lulls never become too noticeable.
The performances contribute in varying degrees to the film's sense of fun. Farina (who also appeared in Get Shorty), Garofalo, Lee and, particularly, Deschanel are all wittily understated. Sizemore and Warburton play effectively for broader laughs and Tucci's over the top display works in small doses. Allen - who also contributes a voiceover that helps keep the story moving coherently - is somewhere in the middle with his efficient but slightly chilly performance. Russo (another Get Shorty alumnus) is curiously underused.
The film's weakest spots come when the wackiness briefly gives way to something more like drama. Eliot's attempts to bond with son Mattfit awkwardly into the rest of the action and his affair with Anna never heats up enough to contribute anything much to the story.
Prod cos: Jacobson Company, Sonnenfeld Josephson Worldwide Entertainment
US dist: Buena Vista Pictures
Int'l dist: BVI
Prods: Sonnenfeld, Barry Josephson, Tom Jacobson
Exec prods: Jim Wedaa
Scr: Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, based on the novel by Dave Barry
Cinematography: Greg Gardiner
Prod des: Gareth Stover
Ed: Steven Weisberg
Music: James Newton Howard
Main cast: Tim Allen, Rene Russo, Stanley Tucci, TomSizemore, Johnny Knoxville, Dennis Farina, Jack Kehler, Janeane Garofalo, Patrick Warburton, Ben Foster, Zooey Deschanel, Dwight 'Heavy D' Myers, Omar Epps, Jason Lee