Big Trouble Review

“Dear God In Heaven, Make It Stop! It Wants My Soul!”

April 2nd, 2002

Code Orange Alert #38239: Big Trouble

(No, this movie is not co-written by Matt Stone of South Park, as a lot of people behind me thought upon seeing end credits. It is written by Mathew Stone, a completely different person who hasn't done anything of note in previous years.)

My wet dreams are no longer occupied by a topless Christina Ricci lookalike in bicycle shorts eating a Dilly Bar on an abandoned bus bench with her legs crossed. Instead, they are built on a thin quenchless plot premise, which has The Orange, me, B. Alan, tirelessly searching for a glass of Knott's Berry Farm Punch. A desperate mad dash through my own lucid landscape, this reoccurring nightmare always ends at an Amusement Park soda fountain where the punch's plastic spigot has been ripped away from that invidious machine. These frequent reveries have left drool dripping down my chin into a pool on my deflated air mattress. I must be diabetic, because I'm dying from an insatiable thirst.

My raw, Scotch-soaked throat feels as though it's been combed over with a four-pronged stainless steel fork. Wishing for a bucket full of electrolytes was exactly how I stumbled into Big Trouble; hazy in a crusty-eyed daze where nothing but Knott's Punch was going to make me smile. I'd lost my will too laugh; memories of one truly awful film were still lingering about inside my tiny brain. Barry Sonnenfeld's Wild, Wild West is the exact equivalent of this fiery pain currently ripping apart my esophagus. Heeding Jeff Goldblum's sixteen-year-old warning: I was afraid. I was very afraid. Luckily, Big Trouble turned out to be just the juice I needed; drained in quick gulps. The film reaches into the way-back seat of Sonnenfeld's career, coming up as a worthy sequel of sorts to Barry's Get Shorty. Actually, it could be a sequel to any Dennis Farina movie ever filmed, because, after all, isn't he playing the same character in all of them?

Yeah, I thought so.

Big Trouble is a ceaseless down-trickle of wacky coincidences that do not so much make up a story as take our attention away from the fact that there really is no story. It's a mindless series of events stacked in one line like a pile of drunken, post-rape dominoes. That's not necessarily a putdown. The film reels out in bleats of fun, never drowning in Sonnenfeld's usual ocean of silly daftness. There's an energy spilt forth, here, that's super fast and candy-coated; you really don't have time to hate any of it.

This is due, in absolute sum, to it's inspired casting, which never fails too impress. The film sports so many faces that primary players are still being introduced 70 minutes into its 80-minute running time. Even the tiniest roles are trumped in in-depth characterization, which can be accredited to the cohesiveness between the actors and the written material. Watch Andy Richter and DJ Qualls: They have some of the most memorable moments, yet they clock less time than most everyone else in this motley crew. To say there are stand-outs in Big Trouble is too not look at the whole picture in one setting; though both Patrick Warburton and Zooey Deschanel work effortlessly in winning us over after only a second or two of screen time. Even Tim Allen is a little cheekier than we've seen him as of late, and I'm not a huge fan. If you're going to give this one the hit, hit it simply to see a wonderful team of actors having fun in the lens of a less than observant camera.

Each single scene wants to be it's own movie, tagged onto the next in an attempt to dish up something cohesive. The narrative zigzags like the best Seinfeld episode, and that should come as no surprise considering that most of this talent has ricochet off the face of television. The film is based on previously published material from Dave Barry, alerting one to some of the truly bizarre aspects that can creep out of Big Trouble's woodwork. Checking the film's rabid pedigree, it's no wonder this swims in sitcom soup. It's basically a human cartoon. The piece starts at a fever pitch and never slows down for a second. The thing is short at some 80-odd minutes, but there's enough material shoveled in deep to keep a dozen films afloat for a year. And it supports Heavy D as an FBI agent. You can't get much cooler than that.

Sonnenfeld relies on one basic ingredient: Stupidity. To push out BT's concept quicker than the film itself: We have a couple of Russian gunrunners who own a less than favorable bar. They happen upon a nuclear bomb that looks like a garbage disposal. Soon after, a plot weaved in macrame sees the bomb into the wrong set of hands many times over.

And Jason Lee likes Fritos. It's the little moments between point A and point F that make this ebb and flow a fun trip. Things work in release: Going back through with a clear eye will ruin its taste in pulp concentrate. We're basically given a pointless exercise in masturbation, yet when is free-form ejaculation ever a bad thing? Don't dwell on what you've seen, and it will all be okay. As for me? I always have to linger on what ruins the rug outside the shower door. I'm a headcase.

There are a few issues that are bothersome, maybe to me alone. One: Puggy, played by Jason Lee as an Earthy, God-like hippie who's never without an angelic glow around his head, opens the movie in narrative, then quickly passes us along to Tim Allen (who, unlike Lee, never talks directly to the audience in person, instead opting for a voice-over). Why? Because Puggy claims to have been locked in a trunk for most of the events here. Not true. Puggy is the only character present through most of the on-going proceedings, and he spends very little time in that trunk. Lee is an omnipresent force. Allen, on the other hand, is only here or there at any given moment. This doesn't jive with the core concept of the film. It does work in introducing absolutely every character (how does Tim know all these back-stories?), which is pure laziness on Sonnenfeld's part. He has given us a crib sheet to push things along at an expedient pace. This flaw can easily be overlooked while watching Big Trouble, but it irked me once things were over and done with. Sure, it doesn't distract from any initial in-your-seat enjoyment, so why bring it up? Because I'm a critic.

I'll even bitch about the beer, especially if it's expensive and you bought it. Someone has to bring life's little annoyances to your attention.

My second gripe with the film: I'll gleefully watch this for free and delight in its merry-go-round motion. I would never pay for it, just like I would never pay for any commercial that comes into play during my favorite show (which would be Cheaters). Why? Because, it's nothing more than a well-tuned Fritos advert: Witness Prominent Product Placement at feature length. There's an interesting "Kill Your Television" motif that plays throughout Big Trouble's duration. Any time a TV screen makes an appearance, it is met with a foot or a bullet. Is this a knowing wink at our actors, including Allen, Warburton, Richter, Janeane Garofalo, and Johnny Knoxville, who have all sprung from our living rooms and onto our big screens, liberated from their earlier careers? No, I don't think so. Here's my take on Sonnenfeld's technique:

TV, in its current state, is a wasteland used mainly as a marketing tool. With TiVo, and its unflinching cousins, viewers are able to dispose of all advertising completely. Commercials are disappearing from this televised landscape at a rapid rate. With Big Trouble, Sonnenfeld, a very 'commercial' director, is virtually saying, "TV, we don't need you." If a movie is entertainment enough, it can also be a bloated television commercial. Sad, but true, that's exactly what this is. But this one works, coming on like the best mid-game Super Bowl spot. The first thing I did upon exit of the theater was go to (generic fast food restaurant) and purchase a bag of these salty Frito-Lay corn chips. BT transcends most PPP (Prominent Product Placement) by using its intended product as a character and plot device rather than as obligatory set dressing. They are necessary, and, in fact, do have to be Fritos. The whole movie is basically hinged to this one food item. If it weren't for Fritos, Jason Lee would have never found his way to Miami. We wouldn't have this whole nutty affair. The whole concept is questionable, and it's really up to you, dear viewer, to decide if you want to pay nine dollars for an Infomercial.

I'm torn. I like the movie, but I hate the idea of PPP. It seems to be an exceedingly necessary fixture in our current age of cinema. Oh, well. I guess, above it all, Big Trouble is the best Snack Food sales pitch I've ever been invited too. I'd be happy to watch it between two real films on HBO. My advice to you: Wait and watch it somewhere for free.

PS: Alex and Brit, I'm still waiting for your call. I'm ready. I'm really, really ready...

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