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Big Trouble

At his best, director Barry Sonnenfeld works with the spastic pace and funhouse dimensions of an animator, making comedies so ruthlessly frenetic that they give off the impression of being funny even when the gags flop. After the disastrous Wild Wild West, a lumbering summer blockbuster that mistook hubris for entertainment, Sonnenfeld retreats to a more manageable contraption in Big Trouble, an uneven farce that behaves as if it plays like gangbusters. Closest in spirit to his witty, day-glo adaptation of Elmore Leonard's Get Shorty, the film barrels an Altman-esque ensemble through a Rube Goldberg plot, then wraps up well before the 90-minute mark. Based on Dave Barry's first novel, Big Trouble mimics the colorful South Florida noir of Carl Hiaasen, but in a breezier and less substantial style, kind of like funnel cake without the cake. Teaming the cast in pairs like It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Sonnenfeld splits his time among cops (Janeane Garofalo and Patrick Warburton), FBI agents (Omar Epps and Heavy D), hitmen (Dennis Farina and Jack Kehler), ex-cons (Tom Sizemore and Johnny Knoxville), bluebloods (Stanley Tucci and Rene Russo), adolescents (Ben Foster and Zooey Deschanel), and the underclass (Jason Lee and Sofía Vergara). The odd man out is Tim Allen, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Miami Herald who now works as a low-rent ad man and suffers the additional humiliation of driving a Geo, the symbol of both his divorce and his inadequacies as a man. Through a bizarre series of coincidences, Allen gets a chance to redeem himself when he stumbles onto a hare-brained scheme to steal a bomb from Russian gunrunners, but in the process draws attention from quirky personalities on both sides of the law. Overstuffed with supporting players, minor subplots, elaborate sight gags, and a harried climax that ties it all together, Big Trouble still finds a way to slip in random bits of local color and observational humor. The bigger setpieces and running jokes don't often score, but the smaller ones have the quality of a good humor column, digressing from the main story into unrelated anecdotes and parenthetical asides. On that front, Farina is particularly funny as a professional hitman who is reminded at every moment—by everything from an inane sports call-in show to a pesky automatic seatbelt—how much he hates spending time in Miami. A third-act plane hijacking caused Big Trouble to get pushed back from its September 2001 release date, for obvious reasons. But it's a tribute to the film's goofy, inconsequential charm that it's still possible to laugh as someone sneaks a bomb past airport security.


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