How apropos it seems that the enjoyably outrageous screwball satire "Big Trouble" should open a little more than a week after the death of Billy Wilder, whose influence is felt all over this picture's breakneck comedic pacing.
Reminiscent, if mostly in spirit, of Wilder's lesser-known "One, Two, Three" -- a fast-paced side-splitter starring James Cagney as an American business man who stumbles into Iron Curtain intrigue in 1961 Berlin -- "Big Trouble" features Tim Allen as a fired, freshly divorced newspaper columnist who narrates a lunatic tale of arms trading and assassination attempts in modern Miami.
As one of a dozen characters with equal screen time, Allen's connection to the plot is almost peripheral, but he gives great voice-over (from the zany Dave Barry book on which the film is based) that helps keep straight the cavalcade of well-cast kooks to come.
The insanity starts for Allen because his sardonic teenage son (Ben Foster) is involved in a game of "assassin," in which he's assigned to squirt-gun a cute, sarcastic classmate (Zooey Deschanel, "Almost Famous"). A pair of baffled low-grade mobsters (Dennis Farina and Jack Kehler) screw up their attempt to actually kill the girl's arrogant corporate embezzler step-daddy (Stanley Tucci) when they mistake Foster for a rival hit man.
Tipped off that his company wants him dead, Tucci goes to a seedy waterfront bar to buy guns (for protection or possibly revenge) from Russian smugglers. But he gets kidnapped during a stick-up by two nitwit prison escapees (Tom Sizemore and Johnny Knoxville) in sweat-stained tank-tops, who manage to miss Tucci's briefcase full of money but take everything else of value in the bar -- including a smuggled nuclear bomb they're told is a high-tech garbage dispose-all.
Add to the mix two trigger-happy, erudite FBI thugs (Dwight "Heavy D" Myers and Omar Epps), a pair of overly enthusiastic beat cops (Patrick Warburton and Janeane Garofalo), a blissed-out hobo with a Fritos fetish (Jason Lee), a sexy maid (Sofia Vergara) whom the unfaithful Tucci skirt-chases behind the back of his Martha Stewart-worshiping wife (Rene Russo), and a cameo by Martha Stewart herself (her head appears on the body of barking dog in a frog-venom induced hallucination) -- and I don't know what you have exactly. But whatever it is, it's an absolute riot, even after "Big Trouble" becomes a pretty sloppy film.
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld with the same jazzy air of semi-sophisticated lowbrow absurdity he brought to "Get Shorty," the editing often barrels right past parts of the plot in its obviously abridged 85 minutes. But its cast full of caffeinated comedy performances more than make up for its logical loopholes, which fly by so fast there's no time to think about them anyway.
Even with the rushed run-time, every performer is afforded the opportunity to fine-tune their broadly funny personalities with vaudevillian character traits, keeping the amusement level at maximum no matter how preposterous or plot-punctured the picture gets. I could write a paragraph each about the whimsical nuances employed by performers like Warburton (TV's "The Tick," and Puddy on "Seinfeld"), Lee ("Almost Famous," "Vanilla Sky") and Farina (who has the disgruntled tough-guy thing down to a hilarious science) if I didn't think it would get tiresome in a movie review.
The story culminates with the entire cast in a madcap race to Miami International Airport (which also happens in Wilder's "One, Two Three"), where the grubby, gun-toting Sizemore and Knoxville get past inept security screeners and onto a small plane with the nuke and a hostage in tow, heading toward a farcical finale. When I first saw "Big Trouble" on Sept. 10, 2001, these scenes were considerably funnier than they seemed in the wake of the next day's events. Upon a second viewing last week, I laughed nervously. But I still laughed hard.
Run time: 85 mins
In Theaters: Friday 5th April 2002
Box Office USA: $7.3M
Box Office Worldwide: $8.5M
Distributed by: Touchstone Pictures
Production compaines: Touchstone Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 48%
Fresh: 54 Rotten: 58
IMDB: 6.5 / 10
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Starring: Tim Allen as Eliot Arnold, Rene Russo as Anna Herk, Patrick Warburton as Officer Walter Kramitz, Ben Foster as Ben Arnold, Zooey Deschanel as Jenny Herk, Stanley Tucci as Arthur Herk, Tom Sizemore as Snake Dupree, Johnny Knoxville as Eddie Leadbetter, Dennis Farina as Henry Desalo, Jack Kehler as Leonard Ferroni, Janeane Garofalo as Officer Monica Romero, Heavy D as Greer, Omar Epps as Seitz, Jason Lee as Puggy, Sofía Vergara as Nina, Michael McShane as Bruce, Siobhan Fallon as Fly by Air Ticket Agent