For starters, it's literally crawling with cult-friendly stars, including Jon Favreau (Swingers), Joey Lauren Adams (Chasing Amy), Bud Cort (Harold and Maude), Jon Gries (Real Genius), Daryl Hannah (Kill Bill),and Rachael Leigh Cook (who seems to be making a living off of desert-based movies these days). Secondly, it's got message boards buzzing with fans asking a variation on one simple question: What the hell does it all mean?
Steve Anderson's movie, at first glance, is a ridiculous and rather slapdash attempt at out-Lynching Lynch. Somewhere between Mulholland Drive and Red Rock West you'll find The Big Empty. Favreau stars as "John Person," the stage name of a newbie (yet already failed) Hollywood actor who is offered a quick escape from his mountain of debt: Deliver a suitcase to a town in the desert, earn $25,000 for the work; the debt is gone. He of course takes the job, and no sooner does he arrive in town than things get a little cuckoo. His connection never shows, and he spends most of the time hanging out at his motel, at the bar accross the street (owned by Hannah, looking here more fetching than ever), and dallying with her adopted daughter (Cook, a vision of hotness). Folks turn up dead, John starts to wonder what's in the suitcase, and the very real possibility of the existence of aliens is raised.
This is what has the film's small audience abuzz -- what does all the substantial symbolism (the color blue, the number 11, the lock that no one can open) mean? The ending is way open to interpretation -- so much so that most people will probably be either pissed off or dismissive of it -- but the faithful will be able to read much more into the film. In a way, that's the problem. By refusing to give any direction on what he's really trying to get at, Anderson cripples his film. (Think Lost Highway.) In the end we feel like we being "arted up" with an "I'm-so-clever" approach to filmmaking, one which ultimately sank this movie's hopes for a theatrical release, sending it straight to video in 2004.
The good news is that Anderson saves the movie with some great casting and outstanding performances from his actors. Favreau is fine, but Hannah, Cook, Gries, and especially Kelsey Grammar, as an FBI agent of all things, all make lasting impressions. They look like they're having real fun, and that's more than I can say for most "deliver some money to the desert" flicks. Whether you choose to buy in to Andersons cockamamie UFO story is another matter altogether.
True fans will want to get the DVD, which adds endless commentaries, outtakes, and more.
Run time: 94 mins
In Theaters: Friday 28th August 2009
Distributed by: Artisan Entertainment
Production compaines: North by Northwest Entertainment, Aura Entertainment, Echo Lake Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 71%
Fresh: 5 Rotten: 2
IMDB: 6.2 / 10
Director: Steve Anderson
Screenwriter: Steve Anderson
Starring: Jon Favreau as John Person, Joey Lauren Adams as Grace, Rachael Leigh Cook as Ruthie, Daryl Hannah as Stella, Kelsey Grammer as Agent Banks, Sean Bean as Cowboy, Melora Walters as Candy, Bud Cort as Neely, Jon Gries as Elron