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'Big Trouble'

Terrorists don't win, but neither do audiences

Friday, April 05, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

April Fools' Day, indeed.

"Big Trouble," a comedy I had previewed the morning of Sept. 11, was being screened again. On April 1. And it was mine once more. Some girls have all the fun.

'Big Trouble'

RATING: Language, crude humor and sex-related material

STARRING: Tim Allen, Rene Russo

DIRECTOR: Barry Sonnenfeld

WEB SITE: studio.go.com/bigtrouble



Except for a stray laugh or two at the expense of Martha Stewart and Gators fans, "Big Trouble" wasn't funny then and it's not funny now. Based on a novel by Dave Barry, the ensemble comedy was supposed to open in theaters Sept. 21, 2001, but a subplot about a nuclear bomb being toted through a Florida airport prompted Touchstone Pictures to postpone the release. Smart move.

But now, Touchstone has decided that to withhold "Big Trouble" would mean the terrorists would win. Actually, I made that up. Someone obviously decided that moviegoers would be ready to laugh at stupid airport tricks, and maybe they will (a preview audience periodically chuckled) but I found it a dud.

At the middle of "Big Trouble" is a newspaper columnist named Eliot Arnold (Tim Allen) who put his foot through his editor's computer and earned himself a one-way ticket out of his Miami newsroom. As the movie opens, Eliot is working as an ad man, dealing with a difficult client and a son named Matt (Ben Foster) who is embarrassed by him.

The screenplay then proceeds to introduce and weave together: A crooked, ill-tempered businessman (Stanley Tucci), his wife (Rene Russo), her daughter (Zooey Deschanel), a maid (Sofia Vergara), visiting New Jersey hitmen (Dennis Farina and Jack Kehler), moronic ex-convicts (Tom Sizemore and Johnny Knoxville), cops (Janeane Garofalo and Patrick Warburton), FBI agents (Omar Epps and Dwight "Heavy D" Myers), and a long-haired vagrant (Jason Lee) with a weakness for Fritos.

Throw in a couple of Russians who sell weapons in the back of a forsaken bar, plus a toad shooting hallucinogenic venom and wayward goats and you've got the bulk of the cast.

"Big Trouble," directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, strives to be wacky or zany but never manages, even when it sends one actor running through the airport in the buff. The airport scenes are so over the top that you can't take them seriously, although the left half of your brain will be making a list of things that would never happen today.

The story is all over the Miami map and so are the acting styles. Tucci is annoyingly over the top while Farina strikes the right note, and Garofalo and Warburton make a smart comic team. Deschanel keeps her cool and smarts when those around her are losing theirs. Allen is the ostensible center and sometime narrator but he's one of the least interesting characters on screen.

Readers of Barry's column in the 500-plus newspapers that carry it know he's a very funny guy. He's won the Pulitzer Prize, inspired the CBS sitcom "Dave's World" and made the elimination of low-flow toilets one of his 2004 presidential goals.

But once his work is processed through screenwriters and hampered by history, it's big trouble. And not in a good way.

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