Big Trouble (2002)

“We have a potential Die Hard situation developing in the kitchen”

Andie’s Rating: Dave Barry is the funniest man alive.

Andie’s Review: So I read Big Trouble a few years ago because it was a work of fiction by one of my favorite authors, Dave Barry. This man is one of my personal heroes. His columns are hysterical and his books usually make me wet my pants from laughing so hard. In high school one of my teachers, Mr. Schmidt, actually banned me from bringing Dave Barry books to class because my trying-to-keep-from-laughing-too-much-and-only-succeeding-in-making-a-weird-snort-like-giggle noise was disrupting the class. Well, long story short (too late) I have been anticipating the release of this movie forever. I loved the book and I loved the people cast in it and I was pumped. And then the release got postponed by the Sept. 11th attacks since the plot involves a bomb on an airplane and would-be terrorists. (I really don’t think people would’ve been offended if this had been released last fall because the terrorists are played by Tom Sizemore and Johnny Knoxville, for crying out loud. But I digress…)

So this movie finally got released and I rented it the other night and was definitely not disappointed. They stuck to the book rather faithfully and the cast was hilarious. The sheer plot of this is way too complex to get into. There are real shootings, squirt-gun shootings, missile purchasings, plane hijackings, goats on the freeway, and a psychedelic toad. It’s outrageous and totally funny. I plead with you to read the book and then see the movie. Neither one of them will let you down.

Usually, I am not the biggest Tim Allen fan. I liked his stand-up, but that was about it. He is the perfect choice for bumbling freelance advertising man Eliot Arnold. His son is played by Ben Foster, who I have been in love with since his days in Flash Forward on the Disney Channel. His sarcasm is great and is only enhanced by the dry wit of Zooey Deschanel playing his love interest Anna Herk. The great casting choices just go on from here. We’ve got Stanley Tucci, Jason Lee, Johnny Knoxville, Dennis Farina, Tom Sizemore, Janeane Garofalo, Patrick Warburton, Heavy D, Omar Epps and Andy Richter. It is a smorgasbord of funny people who have a good script to play off of.

The funniest thing about the movie (for me anyway) is when the house full of people gets held hostage and Eliot is all alone in the kitchen trying to figure out what to do and so he’s looking for a weapon and he picks up a rolling pin. Then the guys from outside are like, “We’ve got a potential Die Hard situation developing in the kitchen.” Any reference to one of my favorite ’80s movies is always a good laugh for me.

Go check out Big Trouble, it’s worth the 1 1/2 hours of viewing time because it’ll keep you laughing all the way through. And if you read or have read the book, tell me what you thought. I also have to make a plug here for Dave Barry’s Book of Bad Songs because it is, hands down, the funniest thing I have ever read in my entire life.

Justin’s Rating: The Tick still lives!

Justin’s Review: Most comedies — most, not all — are reliant on one or two “funny” characters who play off of all 298 other “straight men” characters in the cast. This results in a situation where your basket is very full of eggs, and you haven’t hard-boiled them yet. Sometimes, it turns out okay. Sometimes, you have to carry the metaphor into something involving making omlettes by smashing every egg. But a much better approach, at least in this ignorant movie-watcher’s opinion, is to have the 298 people be funny and the other 2 be serious. More comedians = more comedy… is that a faulty equation?

Big Trouble, for better or worse, takes the ensemble approach to the eccentric comedy that it is. It’s stacked with character actors and comedians who clearly love playing these bit parts to the hilt. It works because the weaker performances are balanced with the stronger ones, and no one horrible actor monopolizes screen time. Instead we get Janeane Garofalo, Patrick Warburton, Jason Lee, Andy Richter, DJ Qualls, Stanley Tucci, and Johnny Knoxville, all living it up.

This is one of those films that’s kinda hard to sum up, mostly because it has about five plot lines that intersect at various times. Tim “Gnome Improvement” Allen is a down-on-his-luck ad man who meets the woman of his dreams (Rene “I was pregnant and still kicked butt” Russo) when his kid tries to shoot her daughter… with a super soaker. Unfortunately, Russo is married to a jerk who embezzled money, and is being hunted down by two hitmen from New Jersey. There’s also a couple Russian weapons dealers, two odd cops, a guy who lives in a tree (with the terrific name of Puggy), a sensual latina maid, and some goats.

To explain it all simply: This is Miami.

More specifically, this is Dave Barry’s Miami.

As one of the best humor writers — ever — Barry took the leap from non-fiction essays to one goofy novel, and it made my day. His book Big Trouble had one focus, to make you laugh, and it did this from cover to cover. I was dying to see how the big screen translation would turn out (particularly because this is the first comedy novel-to-film translation I know about, except save The Princess Bride), whether it would be Hollywood doctored to death or left alone. The answer lies somewhere in the happy middle. It keeps a lot of the narration (voiced by Tim Allen) to explain the brief backstories, and includes a couple new lines… but about 80% of what you see on screen is from the book, line-for-line. And that, my friends, is a very good thing.

Big Trouble had the misfortune of being scheduled to release near September 2001, and got bumped to a later date due to part of the plot involving a nuclear bomb on a plane. Like Donnie Darko, it got buried at the box office in its new date, and was largely forgotten. Yet I, just a man but a man of passion, say that you should NEVER forget about a film that has a fat evil toad squirting hallucinogenic poison into the eyes of a dog that sniffs everyone’s crotch. I’m just that kinda guy.

Coming from a book, a number of the lines are (shall I say) smarter and wittier than you’d normally get in a film. You might not be busting a gut constantly, but there’s such subtle humor woven into this thing that you’d really have to be dense not to pick up on the fact that jokes are flying by your head left and right. Of particular joy are Warburton and Garofalo as the dumb and exasperated cops, respectively. Warburton has that sort of knuckle-headed thickness here that he brought to the short-lived TV show The Tick, and Garofalo… well, when has she not rocked? Come to think about it, she was in Mystery Men as a humorous superhero too… connection anyone?

Is this a comedy that is worth courting you for your time, like some sort of sweaty, desperate 17-year-old just trying to get a goodnight kiss? Sure, why not? Pucker up, buster, because it’s worth the shame.

Drew’s Rating: Please forgive me, Dave…

Drew’s Review: It’s generally been my experience that there are two types of people I should make a point of never, ever publicly disagreeing with: cute blondes, and Italian guys bigger than me. So you can see my dilemma here. But I gotta be me, and here’s the straight scoop: Big Trouble just ain’t all that and a bag of chips.

Having said that, though, I feel the need to elaborate. This is not, by any means, a BAD movie. On the contrary, it’s a pretty funny one that, under other circumstances, I probably would’ve returned to the video store with a smile on my face and a positive, if not glowing, endorsement. But like all highly enlightened people, I’m a huge Dave Barry fan, and thus had already read the book this film is based on. And in that context, it pains me to say that… well, it kinda dropped the ball.

Ironically, the giant gobs of narration are actually one of the best (and funniest) aspects of the movie, taken as they are almost verbatim from the novel. See, the genius of Barry’s umpteen zillion books is that he writes in the kind of natural, inelegant, deceptively simple style that at first glance SEEMS like the sort of thing anybody could do… but good luck being half as hilarious. Unfortunately, that’s my main problem with the film — while it sticks fairly close to the source material, it turns out that without Barry’s distinct touch, the situations that’ll make you bust a gut laughing in the novel are just kinda smile-worthy in the movie. For instance, the scene where Matt, Puggy, Roger, the NJ hitmen (whoo whoo!), and the police converge on the Herk household and each other had me giggling like a schoolgirl on nitrous oxide the first time I read it, but on film it was just “Enh… yeah, that’s pretty funny. I guess.” The pacing was good, but somehow it just wasn’t the same.

Which is not to say there aren’t good points to the movie as well. As with any film based on a book, you’re always going to be comparing the big-screen portrayal with what you’d pictured in your head, and in that regard Big Trouble (mostly) succeeds with me. Patrick “No molesté!” Warburton was put on this earth to play The Tick, but his casting as Officer Kramitz is almost equally inspired. (He’s also the subject of one of the few book-to-movie changes I really liked, with Kramitz actually making it to the airport, only to be strip-searched and chased naked through the terminal. Priceless.) And while I’m not the world’s biggest Janeane Garofalo fan, her Officer Romero is just the right mix of disbelief and weary resignation. I’ll be honest, if there’s any actor I thought would be less of a match for the mild-mannered, nerdy Eliot than loud, boisterous Toolman Tim Allen, I can’t think of him, but Allen defies expectations and makes me buy him as a good-humored but beaten-down everyman.

But then there’s Rene Russo, whose Anna Herk just does NOT do it for me. And it’s not entirely her fault — I know they had to make cuts in the movie, and she can’t help it that they left out most of the gentle, tentative flirting between Eliot and Anna before the action starts — but when she jumps him in his office, she just seems like a skanky teenager, rather than a vulnerable but strong woman who’s just found her soulmate. (The absolutely-not-found-in-nature hair color doesn’t really help either.) Seriously, the chemistry between her and Allen is zero, and her concern over her daughter late in the film just didn’t strike me as very convincing; Jenny’s kidnapping (and Snake’s reason for doing it) is supposed to be the point where the story shifts from funny to funny/serious, but whether that was a stylistic choice on the director’s part or Russo’s fault, I didn’t feel any real sense of danger. Ditto for the part, late in the movie, when Eliot tries to ambush Snake and get the nuke off the plane, though that’s more the soundtrack’s fault; whose idea was it to have manic, really goofy, “two-lines-away-from-the-top-on-Tetris”-style music playing during the most dramatic scene of the film, anyway?

So, bottom line, would I recommend this movie? Well… yeah. But cautiously, and with a definite proviso that you not make the same mistake I did — watch the film, THEN read the book, to maximize your enjoyment of both. Trust me.

Oh yeah, and Elizabeth Dole is funnier than Martha Stewart. Totally.

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