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Big Trouble

review by Zach B.

 

 

Rating: PG-13 (For Language, Crude Humor and Sex Related Material)

Running Time: 85 minutes

Starring: Tim Allen, Omar Epps, Dennis Farina, Ben Foster, Janeane Garofalo, Jason Lee, Rene Russo, Tom Sizemore, Stanley Tucci

Screenplay by: Robert Ramsey & Matthew Stone
Based on the novel by: Dave Barry

Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld

 

Studio: Disney

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Audio Commentary with Director Barry Sonnenfeld, 5 Minute Movie, Sneak Peeks

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (12 Scenes)

Released: October 8th, 2002

 

 

Due to launch in September 2001, "Big Trouble" was one of the first one of many pieces of media to get a major halt all thanks to a bunch of terrorists who decided to crash planes into the World Trade Center on that sad, horrific day. Thankfully (and as one had to expect), the movie studios were quite sensitive to the public's feelings. And since "Big Trouble" involves airplanes, airports and nuclear bombs, it was probably not so appropriate. So the film finally opened in April 2002, received mixed write-ups and just plain tanked at the box office. Were Americans ready for vague terrorist references? Apparently not. The sad thing is "Big Trouble" is actually an enjoyable, quirky and rather light movie that will probably best be remembered for being delayed after 9/11 rather than Sonnenfeld's keen direction and fine comedic ensemble. I hope this one doesn't get lost on the video shelf.

Based on Dave Barry's 1999 novel of the same name, the story follows a whole bunch of different people in Miami who's lives come together and are oddly interconnected due to a certain, mysterious, dangerous suitcase. Told by divorced Dad and former newspaper writer Eliot Arnold (Tim Allen), we have hit men chasing after a man who wants a nuclear weapon who's wife doesn't care less for him who sparks it up with Eliot who's daughter also has some thing going with Eliot's son where his son hates him and then two dirty thugs become connected plus there are two cops who get caught in this followed by two FBI agents and to top it off, two crazy pets: one a toad who shoots hallucinogenic spit and the other a crazy dog. Confused yet?

What makes "Big Trouble" succeed is that it's sharp and broad. Sure, specific details and all kinds of links can be much funnier, but if done right, I think more general comedy can be just as good, and probably reach more people since chances are it won't go over everyone's head. Yet perhaps there's some irony in all of this, because the story can be complex to an extent with all the events that happen and how all the characters intertwine. Still, the film is finely tuned and balanced in its laughs. There are some nice moments of slapsticks, funny visuals, strong imagery, great one-liners and some pretty madcap situations.

Unfortunately, the madcap situations probably makes the film flawed. While I'm sure Dave Barry stretched out all of his points and details in the novel, the film seems to have greatly condensed all of that. It actually isn't so bad at the start, but by the last half-hour, it does get a little ridiculous and incredibly far-fetched (and the whole 45 minute thing is incredibly uneven). I guess screenwriters Matthew Stone and Robert Ramsey are to blame for this, but they do some things right. There are a ton of characters in this film, and while they all are rather predictable and aren't highly developed, we actually do get a good sense of them so that we feel we know them to a good extent. Of course, there are also some fine laughs throughout.

There are also some interesting symbolisms through the television, suitcase and probably most importantly, pairs. If you notice, everything here seems to come in twos. Since the film does involve a nuclear weapon that could kill many people, is it supposed to represent the second coming like Noah's Ark? Or partnership? It's interesting how the character of Eliot and Anna character come together, as if they're lonely and represent one and then do pair up, and how the Stanley Tucci character of Arthur (who's evil) is basically all by himself.

Another problem I had with the film though is that it sought to intertwine EVERY character somehow. I love when things intertwine, but I found all of the characters or most meeting up somehow or another just a tad bit annoying. If it was to provide a laugh or move the plot, fine. But otherwise, it just seemed pointless and rather absurd. It's not bad when it works, but otherwise, it's really dumb filler. Was it like this in Dave Barry's novel? I couldn't tell you. But either way, it doesn't translate well to film.

I am actually quite into the work Barry Sonnenfeld has done, be it as a cinematographer or as a director, and "Big Trouble" is definitely his kind of movie and a movie where he can bring the right lunacy as well as vision. Sonnenfeld hits the mark on all counts. He's no stranger to weird, more "out there" kind of comedies ("Men In Black," anyone?) and he does a pretty good job with "Big Trouble." No, it's not his best work, but it is nicely paced for the most part. I'm also trying to figure Barry's obsession with Martha Stewart. She's also referenced a lot throughout this film, and also made a cameo in "Men In Black II."

If there's one thing that's flawless, it's definitely the great cast. I think everyone in the film does get their moment to shine some way or another. Tom Sizemore and Johnny Knoxville of "Jackass" fame (and who also got cast in Sonnenfeld's "Men In Black" sequel) are a pretty good team of low-lives. Dennis Farina is a fine, funny and even somewhat polite hitman (check out that restaurant scene), while I personally enjoyed Jason Lee's poor Puggy who's obsessed with Fritos (nice product placement there).

Tim Allen is perfectly suited for the role of Eliot, bringing a fine sense of seriousness to his role of father and person yet also has fine comedic touches throughout. Eliot's son, played by Ben Foster, is nicely angst-ridden and shapes up throughout the film, while Zooey Deschenel is wonderfully deadpan as the love interest of that character and the daughter of Anna, played by Rene Russo (who also has some small, nice moments). Omar Epps makes a good FBI agent, while Janeane Garofalo and Patrick Warburton (especially him) are pretty hilarious as Miami cops. Andy Richter also has two roles which I would have loved to seen more of as twin security guards. But when it comes down to it, I think Stanley Tucci steals the show as Arthur. His sarcasm and downright over-intensity is never overdone, yet perfectly suited for the character; he's marvelous in his expressions. I love that man (in a platonic way of course!).

In the end, "Big Trouble" is pretty good entertainment. At this point where talk of terrorism and of our fears is so common, I don't think anyone at this point will be offended by the film. The film just keeps moving and doesn't stop, and given that it's just a fun flick with a nice running time of 85 minutes total (7 minutes which of are credits), "Big Trouble" is worth checking if you're in the mood for a laugh on a boring night. Still, I think comedy fans and those who enjoy more interesting cinema will probably get more out of the film. Either way, it's a spiffy piece of work packed with fine talent.

 

Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, this transfer is certainly quite pleasing to the eye. It is flawed and has some distractions, but nothing too major. Sometimes the image is quite grainy and soft, but other times it's wildly sharp and vibrant. Black levels are solid and colors are very well saturated, giving off a flavorful and warm look to represent the city of Miami. The scenes at night don't exhibit any major problems at all either. Detail is also quite strong. The print however is plagued with pieces of dirt and blemishes from time to time, but it never does get too annoying. It's strong, if not inconsistent. Well done.

 

Presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1, this is quite a submersive and highly effective surround track. The film has plenty of greatness to show off in the sound department, and while one might think there are opportunities for bland mixing, I was really surprised in how great it all sounded and how much the mix sucked me in. There's a lot of creative and natural mixing here, be it planes flying overhead, the gun shots of the little parking lot scuffle or the bar fight scene toward the start of the movie. Dialogue is incredibly crisp and very clear, while the music, particularly James Newtown Howard's upbeat score, sounds quite wonderful. The mix is also well balanced, as no sound element powers the other. This is a good example that there can be good mixing for comedy films. Also included on this release are English closed captions, English subtitles, French subtitles and Spanish subtitles.

 

It's not jammed pack, but it was nice to see some supplements. The major thing here is an Audio Commentary with Director Barry Sonnenfeld. I actually liked this better than the film itself. Sonnenfeld, with his nasaly voice, is quite chatty and is very strong in this track as he balances fun production stories, technical details, his own creative decisions and a great sense of humor which had me chuckle a few times and always made me crack a smile (fun fact: he and Jason Lee both own BMWs). I actually found it interesting in where some portions of the film was shot, and thanks to the track, I've added some technical film terms to my knowledge. If you're a fan of Sonnenfeld, the film or want to gain some insight into creating a comedic film, I highly recommend listening to this track.

Also, there's the Five Minute Movie which actually runs 7 minutes and 50 seconds. Hell, it's even chapter encoded. This is just a fun gimmick and a nice quirk. It basically sets up the characters and the major points of the movie. And honestly, you actually get a whole sense of the film just from these short minutes. Some of the laughs are still retained, but if you want to tell your friends all about the film and want to get them into watching it (especially since there is no trailer on the disc), then show them this. And like the film itself, it's also in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and English 5.1 Dolby Digital.

Finally, you get your usual Disney Sneak Peeks for two other comedies out on DVD: "Out Cold" and the Academy Award winning classic "Corky Romano." Each are in non-anamorphic widescreen and English 5.1 Dolby Digital.

 

"Big Trouble" isn't the deepest comedy in the world, but it is pretty satisfying and certainly provides a decent amount of laughs and quirky characters. The DVD is pretty nice as well with a strong commentary from Sonnenfeld, impressive Dolby Digital 5.1 and a nice transfer. The list is somewhat high, but if you're a big fan of the movie, the price is certainly justified. Otherwise, it's definitely worth a rental.