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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 30, 2004

'Big Bounce' lacks flair of previous Leonard classics

Owen Wilson and Sara Foster co-star in the latest Hollywood adaptation from the lively, playful works of writer Elmore Leonard. But despite the title, this outing offers less bounce to the ounce than recent Leonard predecessors. George Armitage directs.

Warner Bros. photos

By Jack Garner
Gannett News Service

"The Big Bounce" is the latest Hollywood adaptation from the lively, playful works of writer Elmore Leonard — another caper comedy featuring eccentric characters, shady dealings and irreverent humor in the tradition of "Get Shorty," "Out of Sight" and "Jackie Brown."

But despite the title, this outing offers less bounce to the ounce than recent Leonard predecessors. On the other hand, Leonard's detectives, cowboys, scam artists and ne'er-do-wells have been at the core of some 30 movies for nearly a half-century — and they aren't all brilliant. In fact, "The Big Bounce" is a remake of an ill-conceived 1969 film of the same title — starring Ryan O'Neal and Leigh Taylor-Young. It may be faint praise, but the 2004 "Bounce" is an improvement.

This time, Owen Wilson co-stars with sexy, playful newcomer Sara Foster. Others in the entertaining cast include Morgan Freeman, Charlie Sheen, Bebe Neuwirth and Gary Sinise. Wasted in small wallpaper roles are the likes of Willie Nelson and Harry Dean Stanton.

Wilson is Jack, a likeable drifter with a predilection for small-time thievery and con games. After a heated argument with his boss at a job site in Hawaii, he drifts into a new gig, managing the grounds for a mediocre resort, run by Walter Crewes (Freeman) who also happens to be a district judge. Jack also runs into the flirtatious Nancy (Foster), who uses her wiles to ensnare him in her scheme to steal money from the same boss who initially fired Jack. But it's all just the tip of a convoluted iceberg.

Director George Armitage generates all the amusing silliness and playful attitude you'd want in a Leonard saga, and showcases some of his fine actors — particularly Freeman, Sheen and Sinise — in ways we haven't seen before. He also presents a Hawaii so beautiful and relaxing, you can almost feel the ocean breeze.

But although he gets the fringe things right, Armitage and his writers fail to center the film. The main plot seems almost forgotten at times — like it's a hindrance instead of the raison d'etre.

When the plot points all collide in the final segment, it's like an afterthought.

Armitage and his fun cast create a spicy luau from Elmore Leonard's recipe. But they forgot the roasted pig.

Rated PG-13, with profanity, violence, brief nudity, innuendo.

• • •

Hawai'i plays itself in 'The Big Bounce'

Willie Nelson, music icon and part-time Maui resident, is featured in "The Big Bounce."

Sara Foster provides a bit of eye candy in the "The Big Bounce."
Hawai'i is the real star of "The Big Bounce," the Warner Bros./Shangri-La Entertainment caper opening today.

And Hawai'i is the real deal — notably, O'ahu's North Shore, where the entire movie was filmed in the winter of 2002-2003. For the first time in recent memory, Hawai'i plays Hawai'i (and not another city or nation, not prehistoric Jurassic Park or the Amazon) in this rustic jewel of an otherwise middling yarn.

Sure, Owen Wilson is predictably adorable as a surfer-dude scam artist, and Morgan Freeman as a judge can make a reading of the phone book quite interesting. It's also a chuckle to see Willie Nelson in an unconventional dress shirt and necktie early on.

For kama'aina, however, the appeal of "Bounce" is the game of recognition — knowing what's where and who's who. There's more than an ounce of local flavor here — there are mounds of familiar turf, including the North Shore's awesome surf.

But "Bounce," based on an Elmore Leonard comic adventure, originally was to be shot in Detroit.


"The producers reworked the script and decided to do everything on the North Shore," Wilson said in a 2002 interview. "I didn't question it because they might have changed their minds. But I can tell you it's going to really show Hale'iwa and the North Shore as pretty picture postcards. Hawai'i definitely is one of the characters in the film."


Not just Hale'iwa, but Waialua, too.

And the best-ever flyover of Mokoli'i Islet (commonly called Chinaman's Hat), on the Windward O'ahu coast.

From the movie's aerial opening shot, which scans the North Shore shoreline and anchors on the Turtle Bay Resort, to the closing ocean scenes, Hawai'i is all over the map.

With few exceptions, the sites are in the context of real life, with Hale'iwa as the focal point.

You'll catch a glimpse of Kua 'Aina Sandwich Shop, across the street from the Waialua Court House — one of those cinematic licenses where the moviemakers fudged the court building.

And Hale'iwa Joe's restaurant is the venue of a long scene in which the Wilson and Freeman characters work up a deal.

An aerial shot of the twin-arched Hale'iwa bridge looks spectacular from afar, the image denoting its proximity to the harbor.

Kainoa's Sports Bar really exists, too, on Kamehameha Highway.

The beachfront apartments are part of the Ke Iki Beach Bungalows on Ke Iki Road. And that spectacular round, revolving bed (where Sara Foster and Wilson have a quick romp) is said to be that of artist Christian Lassen, and is on Sunset Beach.

Waimea Valley, the tourist attraction, is an easily identifiable location, too, particularly the waterfall area.

Ditto the landmark church tower at Waimea Bay.

The lodge on a ridge, in an isolated Waialua plantation, is an actual residence. Its front lawn is where Charlie Sheen suffers a bloodied nose in a scuffle with Wilson.

But the Pineapple Princess roadside stand is faux.

It's fun, too, to scout for locals-only trivia.

What bumper sticker is on a kitchen sink? (Got Poi)

What fast-food tub is in the fridge? (Panda Express)

Heck, even The Advertiser — with a faux front page — has a role in the film.

— Wayne Harada, Advertiser entertainment writer

• • •

'Bounce' fails to bag film critics

THE BIG BOUNCE (PG-13) Two Stars (Fair) From left: Charlie Sheen, Morgan Freeman and Owen Wilson are among the major players in "The Big Bounce." Warner Bros., 105 minutes.
What other movie critics are saying about "The Big Bounce":

"Owen Wilson usually makes any movie better, simply by showing up and being Owen Wilson. ... But his easygoing likability is actually a liability in 'The Big Bounce.' He lacks the edge needed to match the cadence of the dialogue.

"Morgan Freeman, though, manages to muddle together his usual stately presence as Jack's boss, a motel owner and part-time judge. And he takes part in the movie's best scene in which he, Wilson, Willie Nelson and Harry Dean Stanton sit around a table playing dominoes, drinking Wild Turkey and making fun of each other.

"More moments like that could make a movie worthy of (author Elmore) Leonard's name."

— Christy Lemire, Associated Press; out of four stars

"Well, it's not the worst adaptation of an Elmore Leonard story ever made.

"Heck, we can do better than that. How about: Come see 'The Big Bounce,' where the scenery's the star?

"That's really not all that positive either, but it's going to have to do: 'Bounce' — filmed in lush, beautiful Hawai'i — is one of the most soulless and least engaging films in recent memory."

— Matt Weitz, Dallas Morning News; Grade: C-

"It may be faint praise, but the 2004 'Bounce' is an improvement" over the 1969 version.

"But although he gets the fringe things right, (director George) Armitage and his writers fail to center the film. ... When the plot points all collide in the final segment, it's like an afterthought."

— Jack Garner, Gannett News Service; (fair)

" 'Bounce' has some flavor but no fizz, like ginger ale left out with the top off. A tepid script, lazy homophobia and sluggish pacing rob 'Bounce' of its bounce, so that when the big switcheroos are supposed to happen, your reaction is, 'What are we switching from? And how come none of it has any impact?' "

— Chris Hewitt, Knight Ridder News Service;