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Big Trouble Print E-mail
Tuesday, 08 October 2002

Big Trouble

Touchstone Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: PG-13
starring: Tim Allen, Omar Epps, Dennis Farina, Ben Foster, Janeane Garofalo, Jason Lee, Rene Russo, Tome Sizemore, Stanley Tucci
release year: 2002
film rating: Four Stars
sound/picture: Three-and-a-Half Stars
reviewed by: Mel Odom

Noted humor and satire newspaper columnist Dave Barry wrote the novel on which “Big Trouble” was based. With the success of other Floridian crime novel writers such as Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen, Barry’s book was a natural bestseller and a movie prospect.

“Big Trouble” is an ensemble movie, telling the whole story through the interwoven characters’ viewpoints and personal crises. The director, Barry Sonnenfield, also directed the movie based on Leonard’s novel “Get Shorty.” Sonnenfield keeps a lot of the same rapid editing style and jazzy musical score, using the sound to heighten and tighten the scenes and plot points.

Chapter 1 opens with Puggy (Jason Lee) telling part of the story, with orchestral music playing in the background and light streaming through a jungle that makes him look like a Jesus figure. Moving quickly forward, the film picks up the story with Eliot Arnold (Tim Allen), a one-time newspaper columnist for “The Miami Herald” turned ad agent who is running his own agency. The jazzy music infuses the argument he’s having with a client with action and nervous energy. In a flashback that encapsulates his character’s weakness and problem, Eliot kicks in his editor’s computer monitor in an explosion that rocks the subwoofer. Bruce, the ad client who is obnoxious and keeps turning up throughout the film, gripes at Eliot and tells him how he wants his ad done. Eliot’s son Matt calls and asks to borrow the Geo, which is the car Eliot now drives.

A screaming jet whipping by overhead opens Chapter 2, which Sonnenfield admits to taking from “Get Shorty” in his commentary on the film. The view pans to a mysterious metal case aboard a small transport truck. A van arrives for the case. When the van doors open, the sounds punch through the left and right front speakers. With the 5.1 surround sound system, the case crashes onto the van deck, sounding incredibly heavy as the case lid is lifted. The audio effects on the case are intentionally amped, as discussed in the commentary, and every time the case is onscreen being manipulated, it sounds huge and ominous. Two hitmen arrive with a high-caliber rifle in a golf bag. Puggy arrives at the Jolly Jackal bar where he runs into two lowlifes, Snake and Eddie, who figure into the plot in a big way eventually. The metal case arrives at the tavern, tying some of the plot elements to one location.

In Chapter 3, Puggy finds a new home in a tree that overlooks the home of Arthur Herk (Stanley Tucci), where he lives with his wife Anna (Rene Russo) and daughter Jenny. Arthur also has a maid named Nina, who Puggy develops a crush on. Matt Arnold arrives in his father’s Geo, armed with a squirt gun that he intends to use to splash Jenny. The sound booms and crashes, thumping through the subwoofer. While Arthur puts the moves on the maid, licking between her toes, heavy salsa music underscores the sequence.

Two hitmen arrive to kill Arthur. Mosquitoes that whine through the surround sound system’s front speakers plague them. As they’re getting set up for the shot, Matt charges into the house with the squirt gun, to the accompaniment of pounding Latin music that amps up the intensity. Matt’s arrival throws the entire Herk household into chaos, and it throws off the hitmen’s shot, putting the slug through the television. Police sirens scream into the night, blaring from left to right in the main speakers as the hitmen make their escape.

After the two police officers arrive, things get sorted out fairly quickly, although the laughs and the humor are steady. The director’s commentary is great because Sonnenfield points out the problems of actors and actresses lying fallow for a week or more, acquiring sunburns and other changes. This chapter also brings in the Geo’s (intentionally) horrid sound system again, with a noise that thumps through the subwoofer.

Nina meets with Puggy in Chapter 5, and salsa music underscores the dialogue. However, when Eliot and Anna hook up at his office and the lust between them explodes, big band swing music echoes through the surround sound, placing the viewer squarely in the center of the action.

Arthur eventually decides to buy a missile to take out the guys that are trying to kill him. This brings us back to the metal case that showcases the ambient sound again as it thumps through the subwoofer.

In Chapter 7, Matt and Jenny meet so that he can “kill” her with the squirt gun. While they’re occupied doing that, a drunk security guard sees them, pulls a pistol he isn’t authorized to carry, and sets off in pursuit. Shots thunder through the subwoofer, and the music score that provides the dramatic undercurrent to the action whips through the surround sound system. When a security guard puts a round through a nearby car, the car alarm screams to life with deafening intensity.

Chapter 8 is absolutely hilarious when small-time crooks Snake and Eddie bring Arthur back to his own home to rob the safe they’re certain he has there. The thieves take the family hostage, leaving Eliot alone in the kitchen. Hitmen Henry and Leonard are outside watching everything take place. Back at the Jolly Jackal, the final two players in the movie arrive in the form of a pair of F.B.I. agents tracking down the nuclear weapon in the case. The door slams open and closed through the left front speaker, matching the positioning on the screen.

The film pumps through the house burglary. Henry’s blow-by-blow description of the action for Leonard really steals the show for a while. Then the story is up and running, streaking like lightning literally against the ticking clock of the nuclear bomb. Snake and Eddie take off with Jenny and Puggy as hostages. They smash through the gate, and the crescendo is loud enough to wake up the subwoofer.

The Geo is used for hot pursuit. The subcompact car rattles, clanks, and va-rooms across the screen, and the sounds echo through the left front, center, and right main speakers.

Chapter 9 features a huge car crash, with a Geo/goat collision that is deafening as it explodes through the subwoofer. The action and the jokes come fast and furious at that point as everyone converges on the airport and the nuclear bomb.

“Big Trouble” doesn’t have much in the way of extras. One oddity is the abbreviated feature that’s only seven minutes and 50 seconds long, billed the “Five Minute Movie!” The commentary by Sonnenfield is good and insightful, well worth the time spent sitting through the movie a second time.

Fans of big comic crime movies will enjoy “Big Trouble.” Tim Allen also provides some great laughs during this twisting rollercoaster rush of madness, as do all of the cast members. However, while “Big Trouble” is definitely worth renting for a night meant for light viewing and a big bowl of popcorn, watching the movie again and again quickly loses appeal once all the gags are revealed. The glitter and flash of the story is excellent, but even with Allen’s voiceover, the movie lacks in the kind characterization that really pulls in an audience.

more details
sound format:
English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
aspect ratio(s):
Widescreen 1.85:1, Enhanced for 16x9 Televisions
special features: Audio Commentary with Director Barry Sonnenfield; “Five Minute Movie”; Sneak Peeks; English Closed-Captioning
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Pioneer DV-C302D
receiver: RCA RT2280
main speakers: RCA RT2280
center speaker: RCA RT2280
rear speakers: RCA RT2280
subwoofer: RCA RT2280
monitor: 42-inch Toshiba HD Projection TV

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