Some genuine humor finds its way to `Trouble'

April 05, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Big Trouble is a comedy that rests on the assumption that grown men can't tell the difference between a gun and water pistol.

Which is another way of saying Big Trouble is a comedy that doesn't work if you think about it too much. Cut it some slack, however, and you just might have a good time.

This movie already has earned a level of notoriety it doesn't deserve: Its original September release was pushed back after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, because Touchstone executives felt the time wasn't right for a comedy whose climactic scenes involve a bomb on an airplane. Based on a Dave Barry book, it's a Rube Goldberg-like contraption of a movie, tracing the interconnecting paths of a bunch of characters who spend much of their time failing to connect -- with the world, with each other, with reality.

Tim Allen, barely breaking a sweat, serves as the narrator and nominal lead. His character, Eliot Arnold, is desperate to prove to his son he's not a jerk. Not that the son really cares; all Matt (Ben Arnold) wants to do is use his squirt gun to "kill" people and advance in a game he and his schoolmates are playing.

His latest target is Jenny Herk (Zooey Deschanel), a glum, withdrawn classmate, the daughter of sleazy millionaire Arthur Herk (Stanley Tucci) and his wife, Anna (Rene Russo). Papa Herk, meanwhile, is being stalked by two hit men from Jersey, Henry (Dennis Farina) and Leonard (Jack Kehler).

Others in the picture are Jason Lee as a spaced-out drifter named Puggy who loves Fritos and looks like Jesus; the Herks' buxom maid, Nina (Sofia Vergara), who mistakes Puggy for his look-alike; two ex-con dim bulbs (Tom Sizemore and Johnny Knoxville), who dream of life in Jamaica; two local cops, one of whom (Patrick Warburton) lusts after the other (Janeane Garofalo); and two FBI agents (Omar Epps and Dwight "Heavy D" Myers), who are tracking down an atomic bomb spirited out of Russia and sold on the black market.

Through various machinations too convoluted to describe here, all the parties are brought together by the aforementioned bomb, which is hidden inside a large metal box and looks just like a garbage disposal. Some of them want it, some of them have it, some of them can't seem to help being around it (only the cops and the FBI know what it is).

All of the actors have their individual moments (although Allen sometimes seems barely there), and Farina is especially funny as a Jersey guy who is positive that everyone in Miami is insane. But there's a uniformity at work here that doesn't help the film; it's as though director Barry Sonnenfeld gave everyone the same direction: deadpan. A little underplaying can be great, but a whole cast of actors who do nothing but can prove deadening. You wish someone here would work for his laughs (Tucci's about the only one who tries).

But Big Trouble certainly marks a quantum leap for Sonnenfeld, whose last film was the execrable (not to mention leaden) Wild Wild West. At least this time, he keeps the special effects to a minimum, lets his actors carry the movie and wrings a few genuine laughs out of his material.

Big Trouble

Starring Tim Allen, Rene Russo, Stanley Tucci

Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld

Rated PG-13 (Adult language, crude humor, sexuality)

Released by Touchstone Pictures

Running time 85 minutes

Sun score: **1/2

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