The Big Bounce Movie Review

Winningly wry and roguish Owen Wilson seems very much at home in the cheeky, tropical-noir world of Elmore Leonard in "The Big Bounce," a watered-down adaptation that has enjoyable vim and vigor, even if it isn't quite a faithful adaptation of Leonard's wily style.

Wilson has a gift for taking what other actors might see as rapid-fire dialogue and slowing it down to a hang-loose pace, making it seem more naturally smirky, and thereby making it his own. So as a lackadaisical surfer/vagabond/con man whose philosophy toward a career in crime is that he'll "take money if it's lying around," he's an ideal anti-hero to shrug his way through this fun but forgettable flick about an undercooked caper of mob money and double-crosses.

Fired from a construction job on the North Shore of Oahu and freshly sprung from the hoosegow after landing a baseball bat upside the foreman's noggin, Jack Ryan (Wilson) is offered a job by the blithely amused local judge who heard his case (Morgan Freeman, harmonizing perfectly with Wilson's laid-back style) -- and who likes to ruffle the feathers of Ray Ritchie (Gary Sinise), the crooked real estate developer who was pressing charges.

Working for his rent as a handyman at the judge's modest 12-bungalow getaway, Jack learns he's living just down the beach from the developer's mansion (coincidence? don't count on it) and soon begins pursuing a dodgy flirtation with a cunning, deceptively carefree flavor of femme fatale.

Newcomer Sara Foster gives refreshing dimension to her sexy, pouty and perpetually braless beach bunny, a sharp cookie named Nancy, who Jack knows good and well is the developer's extramarital plaything. Of course, who's being played by whom is open to debate. When Jack explains his criminal philosophy during a date on which he takes her out breaking and entering, Nancy ponies up her most seductive smile and mischievously coos, "What if I told you there was $200,000 just lying around? Would you take that?"

Part of what makes "The Big Bounce" worthwhile is that Jack is too smart (or is it too apathetic?) to just bite down on this bait. In fact, he drives the girl a little crazy with his on-and-off enthusiasm for her plan to have him do her dirty work pilfering bribe money from Ray's safe (he's paying off officials so he can build a resort on sacred native land). Jack knows there's gotta be more to it than that.

Director George Armitage (whose tongue-in-cheeky crime-flick resume includes "Miami Blues" and "Grosse Pointe Blank") has a feel for Leonard's irreverent sense of humor, but he's working from an over-simplified, over-Hollywoodized script (by "Gothika's" Sebastian Gutierrez) that is more concerned with coming off as broadly quirky and broadly clever than it is with developing characters with Leonard-sharp wit.

This is evidenced by one-note roles given to the great Bebe Neuwirth (as the developer's drunken-stupor wife) and the so-so Charlie Sheen (as his thick-headed lackey) -- and by a handful of overly staged episodes, like a scrappy little scuffle between Wilson and Sheen during which Foster sits nearby, sipping coffee and looking deliberately bored as she waits to see who comes out on top.

But while the screenplay is outmatched by the picture's three leads, "The Big Bounce" (which was made once before in 1969 with Ryan O'Neal) serves up enough smiles with its plot of compound twists and its charismatic leading man's impeccable comedic timing to earn its keep as an empty-calorie matinee -- or perhaps a lazy-weekend rental six months down the road.


The Big Bounce Rating

" Weak "

Rating: PG-13, WIDE: Friday, January 30, 2004


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