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February 2004

By Julian Roman
The Big Bounce
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Directed by: George Armitage
Producers: George Armitage, Steve Bing, Jorge Saralegui
Screenwriter: Sebastian Gutierrez, based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
Composer: George S. Clinton
Cast: Owen Wilson, Sara Foster, Morgan Freeman, Charlie Sheen, Gary Sinese, Bebe Neuwirth, Gregory Sporleder, Vinnie Jones

Who's scamming who? That's the tagline from The Big Bounce, the latest Elmore Leonard novel to get the big screen treatment. I couldn't care less after watching the movie. The Big Bounce is a jumbled mess, one of the most disjointed films I've seen in a while. It makes no sense at all and comes together in a ludicrous ending. I guess my biggest disappointment with the film is Owen Wilson. His shtick has finally run its course. It pains me to say that because I'm a huge Owen Wilson fan. The guy's genuinely funny and a great writer. He just wears thin quickly in the movie. I think he knew the script was weak and probably overcompensated by adlibbing. The Big Bounce tries to be a quirky comedy caper, in the same vein as Get Shorty and Jackie Brown. Those movies succeeded grandly whereas The Big Bounce crashes and burns. I hope Elmore Leonard got his money up front because he's getting nothing if they backloaded the deal.

Owen Wilson plays Jack Ryan, who's giving up fighting commies for the government and relocated to Hawaii. Just kidding, couldn't resist throwing in a Tom Clancy reference. Anyway, Jack Ryan is a petty thief doing odd jobs on a construction site owned by wealthy developer Ray Ritchie (Gary Sinise). The site is being picketed by Hawaiian natives for spoiling their beautiful land. Ray Ritchie's henchman foreman, Lou Harris (Vinnie Jones), yells racial slurs at the protesters and gets clocked in the face by a bat wielding Jack Ryan. This was the funniest scene in the film and sadly it's at the very beginning. So Ryan goes to jail, only to be released and employed by local judge Walter Crewes (Morgan Freeman), who happens to own a few bungalows near Ritchie's development. Pretty soon Ryan takes notice of Ray Ritchie's slinky mistress, Nancy Hayes (Sara Foster). They begin a whirlwind romance of stealing cars and breaking into houses for fun. It's all about the bounce, the thrill of committing a crime. Hence the title of the film.

Sara enlists Jack into a scheme to steal $200,000 from Ray Ritchie. The plan is unbelievably risky and stupid, but in the world of movies Jack goes right along. I'll leave the machinations of the heist to be laughed at and ridiculed by the moviegoer. I will say that it involves a host of other characters, Charlie Sheen as Bob Jr., Bebe Neuwirth as Alison Ritchie, and Andrew Wilson as Ned Coleman. The basic plot of the film is to see if Jack is the biggest patsy of all time. There's some shenanigans going on here. Who's manipulating, who's being played, it's all very convoluted. I will say that there are some shockers in the finale, but it's an unsatisfying ending overall.

George Armitage, the film's director, takes a major hit here. He directed Gross Pointe Blank and Miami Blues, so the man does have a knack for this genre. The problem is that he tries too hard to accomplish everything. I don't know if that was a problem with the screenplay or the editing, but it's apparent on screen. The pieces just don't fit together. The characters are all over the place, coming and going out of nowhere. Gary Sinise is criminally underused, while Sara Foster is given way too much screen time. I know she's a babe, but she can't act. She has an important part and executes the role poorly. Her character is the vixen that drives the story by manipulating the men around her. I didn't buy it for one second. She looks mighty pretty, but they should have gotten some eye candy that went to acting school.

The Big Bounce has a few laughs and nothing else. It's a shame to see so many great actors in a bad movie. I fault the director, because he has a good cast, sans Sara Foster, and squanders it away. Maybe the script was terrible to begin with and the actors just wanted a paid vacation in Hawaii. Who knows, the fact of the matter is that The Big Bounce is a big flop. Also, the music is horrendous. I would readily have turned off the sound and read the captions if given a choice.