This 'Bully' has no punch Remember what your mama told you and ignore the 'Big Bully.'

January 27, 1996|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

The great historian Barbara Tuchman once wrote a book called "The March of Folly," about moments of high delusion in history. Surely such an approach would work in Hollywood, where the volume would be called "The Moonwalk of Folly" and one chapter contained therein would have to provide a clinical look at the background to "Big Bully."

Wow, is this one a stinker! Did anyone read the script before they started shooting it? I wonder when they caught on that it was headed into the toilet -- was there a day on the set where everyone just looked at everyone else and said, "Boy, are we bad!" Or was it one of those things where hopes were high until very late in the cutting room and everyone finally caught a gander at the finished product?

The movie opens in the '70s with a sad little boy named David Leary, much bullied by a monster named Fang, nee Rosco Bigger. On the way out of town -- the town being Hastings, Minn. -- as he's headed for a new life in California, David squeals on Fang for a petty theft and watches as the bigger boy is led away by the cops.

Years later, he'd grown into a sad little man (played by Rick Moranis), just as hapless, recently abandoned by a wife who could take his kvetching no more.

A failed novelist (the movie's one scene of genius shows him sitting at a deserted bookstore signing, telling people where the Stephen King section is), he's asked to return to Hastings, to teach a class in creative writing, to be a kind of writer in residence (but at a middle school?). He brings his own troubled son along, and the pattern repeats, though with a difference.

Now it's his son who's the bully. Worse, the object being bullied is the son of the original bully, now a pitiful shop teacher (Tom Arnold).

There appear to be some opportunities for irony here, but the direction of Steve Miner is too ham-handed to bring them out and turns too quickly to a search for slapstick and cartoon violence.

Neither Moranis nor Arnold are impressive. Moranis' performance somewhat like his whiny, prissy Woody Allen back on "SCTV" but without the wit. Arnold is merely loud, crude and annoying, and his character arc -- he goes from nebbish back to tormentor in a split second -- never makes any sense.

Of course, by movie's end, the story is so desperate for excitement that Miner sinks to horror-movie cliches, as the crazed Fang chases pitiful li'l David through the school and then to a storied waterfall, where they duel like Holmes and Moriarty.

+ Unfortunately, nobody dies.

'Big Bully'

Starring Rick Moranis and Tom Arnold

Directed by Steve Miner

Released by Morgan Creek

PG-rated

... **

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