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Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Big Trouble

Posted By on Wed, Apr 10, 2002 at 12:00 AM

When the Hollywood machine manufactures a surplus of running gags and plot lines of contrived-to-be-comic coincidences, and assembles them together into a cheap caricature of cool and quirky, criminal dark comedies like Pulp Fiction (1994) and its younger English cousin Snatch (2000), the result is director Barry Sonnenfeld’s Big Trouble.

But the biggest things in this flick are its budget, the cast it afforded and the product placements that defrayed its bottom line. Tim Allen stamps his Eliot Arnold from his patented lovable-loser die: He’s this year’s model of the titular Joe Somebody (2001), a less-than-average Joe who would be superdad to win the respect and love of his kid. Eliot’s car, a Geo, is his losermobile: a high miles-per-gallon symbol of the disappointment he sees reflected in his son Matt’s (Ben Foster) eyes and the stumbling blocks in their mildly dysfunctional relationship.

It seems it takes a village (populated mostly by cartoonish idiots) to raise a superdad. Eliot — ironically not born to achieve the role — is thrust into the greatness of clumsy, everyman action-heroism by the bunglings of two greasy, moronic crooks. They are Snake (Detroit’s Tom Sizemore rebuilding his comic mugger of Penn & Teller Get Killed) and Eddie (Johnny Knoxville, the titular “Jackass” of the MTV series) — and an oily, corporate-executive weasel named Arthur Herk (whom Stanley Tucci plays with the mania of a comically melodramatic villain).

Screenwriting team Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone (Life) attempts to hot-rod their plot with takes on the quirky characters of Pulp Fiction and Snatch. Zooey Deschanel (Almost Famous) portrays Herk’s daughter, Jenny, with the adolescent world-weariness of a young Winona Ryder playing Pulp Fiction’s Mia Wallace. Dennis Farina replays his trademarked smarmy mobster from Sonnenfeld’s best film to date, Get Shorty (1995), and director Guy Ritchie’s Snatch. Of course, Ramsey and Stone neatly tie everything up in the end to meet Hollywood’s romantic-comedy specifications.

This movie is mostly driven by Sonnenfeld’s (Wild Wild West) Rube Goldberg action set pieces. But unlike the tour-de-force chase and fight scenes he shot as cinematographer for the Coen brothers’ Raising Arizona (1987), these are as underpowered as Eliot’s embarrassing Geo. Even Jason Lee’s (Vanilla Sky) Frito-munching, homeless Jesus lookalike, Puggy, can’t redeem this attempt at comedy.

The biggest trouble with Sonnenfeld’s latest model is its miserly humor economy: 93 minutes on a handful of laughs.

E-mail James Keith La Croix at


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