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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 5, 2002

'Big Trouble' is a big mess

By Marshall Fine
The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

BIG TROUBLE (Rated PG-13 for profanity, violence, partial nudity and adult themes). Two Stars (Fair).

Small-time crooks, big-time killers and a missing atomic device can't rescue this flat adaptation of Dave Barry's novel. Neither can a stellar cast with only rare exceptions. Starring Tim Allen, Rene Russo, Stanley Tucci, Janeane Garofalo, Jason Lee. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Touchstone Pictures, 85 minutes.

"Big Trouble," the novel, is a Dave Barry-esque shaggy-dog story because, of course, it was written by Dave Barry.

But Barry's novel of human foibles and petty crime in Miami resists director Barry Sonnenfeld's attempts to bring it to life on film — despite a stellar cast. It may be that Sonnenfeld is the wrong director for the material or that he simply mishandled this particular script; whatever the cause, "Big Trouble" ends up as a flat, only intermittently amusing film.

Like Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Collateral Damage," "Big Trouble" was pulled from the Fall 2001 release schedule after the Sept. 11 attacks. The reason: a lengthy sequence at the end of the film where a pair of idiot criminals manage to smuggle an atomic weapon onto an airplane.

"Big Trouble" is a sprawling, multi-character story which, in the script by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone, is organized by using a voice-over narrator. Tim Allen, who plays Eliot Arnold, one of the film's central characters, fills that function, though he eventually is given the tone of omniscience. It's a literary device, one of the few ways Barry's voice actually gets into the film.

The plot centers on Arthur Herk (Stanley Tucci), an embezzler in Miami who has stolen from his Mob-run employer and is now being stalked by hired killers (Dennis Farina and Jack Kehler). But on the evening that the killers come to shoot Arthur, a classmate of Arthur's stepdaughter shows up at the same time, playing a high-school game called "Killer," in which he must shoot her with a squirt gun.

The squirter, Matt (Ben Foster), is the son of Eliot Arnold, a former newspaper columnist now trying to make it in advertising. Eliot is divorced and drives a Geo, which is enough to earn him his son's scorn, though he shows up at the Herk household to save his son from an arrest.

There's another subplot involving a pair of ex-cons (Tom Sizemore and Johnny Knoxville), who show up to rob a dingy bar run by a pair of Russians (who happen to be arms dealers). They subsequently kidnap Arthur and steal the aforementioned atomic device from the Russians. Eventually, the dim cons take a roomful of people hostage — including Eliot, his son and a pair of cops — before hopping the plane to the Bahamas. There's also some business involving a homeless man (Jason Lee), and a dog bedeviled by a frog that sprays a psychotropic chemical as a defense mechanism.

If this doesn't sound coherent, well, it hangs together only loosely on the screen.

Sonnenfeld doesn't have much of a sense of how to keep the action coherent. There's a lot of frantic running around but to little effect. The story is so plot-heavy that the characterizations are almost an after-thought.

Which is too bad because a few of the actors are right on target. Farina's efficient and well-mannered hit man makes the most of his scenes with deadpan elan; Tucci goes over the top in a way that builds momentum (and laughs). But such dependable performances as Janeane Garofalo and Patrick Warburton are rendered unfunny or simply invisible.

"Big Trouble" is small potatoes. It's a movie that promises but seldom delivers.

Rated PG-13 for profanity, violence, partial nudity and adult themes.