Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Unsung!: Big Trouble

I have always felt a little sorry for Barry Sonnenfeld’s Big Trouble. I guess like most things related to comedy, it’s all in the timing.

I am guessing that the studio thought that Big Trouble was going to be a big hit. Producer/Director Barry Sonnenfeld was hot; his previous two comedies were Get Shorty (1995) and Men In Black (1997). The studio scheduled Big Trouble to be released on September 21, 2001, and unfortunately, the movie features a climax in which a gun and a nuclear bomb are smuggled onboard an airplane.

Ho ho. This was funny, funny stuff ten days after 9/11.

Needless to say, the opening was postponed, and when Big Trouble finally opened in April of 2002, the studio released it with no enthusiasm and even less advertising. The film cost over $40 million to make; it grossed less than $8 million domestically.

THE PLOT IN BRIEF: Like most farces, Big Trouble has a labyrinthine plot, any description of which would contain major spoilers, but I will give it a try. A depressed ex-newspaper columnist, a rich and disagreeable man, two teenagers, two police officers, two Russian weapons smugglers, two criminal idiots, two hit men, two security guard brothers, and a homeless guy named Puggy share an adventure involving squirt guns, real guns, tactical nuclear weapons, and escaped goats over the course of two days in Miami. There are at least two love stories mixed up in this as well.

A few months ago, Patrick and Doug bet me that I could not work the word “labyrinthine” into one of my columns. I win. Next week: “alacrity”!
The chief selling point here (and main reason to watch the movie now) is the incredible cast. From the leads right down to the smallest cameos, Big Trouble rivals It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World for its sheer surplus of comedy performers. You got your Tim Allen from Galaxy Quest, you got your Jason Lee from several Kevin Smith films, you got your Tom Sizemore fresh out of rehab, you got your Johnny Knoxville from Jackass, your Mike McShane from Whose Line Is It Anyway? and Office Space, your Patrick Warburton from Seinfeld, your Andy Richter from The Conan O’Brien Show, and your Janeane Garofalo from Mystery Men and the world of alternative stand-up comedy. You got your Sofia Vergara still ten years away from appearing in Modern Family; you got your Zooey Deschanel still ten years away from transforming into Quirky Girl. You got your Stanley Tucci from every damn film he has ever made. I cannot ever remember Tucci giving a substandard performance. The man is a hoot.

Barry Sonnenfeld must have enjoyed working with Dennis Farina and Rene Russo on Get Shorty because they are both back in this film and playing very similar roles.

I have said before in reviews of bad movies that often all cast members seem to think they are in a different movie, but in Big Trouble I think that same problem works in the movie’s favor. The variety of performers and performance styles gives the movie a zany, crazy quilt quality that amps up its already labyrinthine plot.

Ha! That’s another five bucks, boys.

Another reason to like Big Trouble is that it never overstays its welcome. At less than 80 minutes without end credits, it is short and sweet. Woody Allen once observed that 82 minutes was the perfect length for something funny. I sometimes think that between this film and his earlier Men in Black (85 minutes without credits) Barry Sonnenfeld was trying to challenge all-time champ Duck Soup (68 minutes with credits) for short-classic-comedy supremacy.

Big Trouble does suffer from an overreliance on running jokes. Everyone in the film seems to be reading the same issue of Martha Stewart Living. Maybe that was actually some sort of deal the filmmakers made with Stewart because later in the film, she has a very odd cameo. Everyone in the film seems to use basic cable channels when asked to cite their source of esoteric facts. No television is safe from a stray bullet; Elvis Presley, no stranger to shooting televisions, would have loved this movie.

It is not a perfect film, but it is a very funny film.

I have a feeling that most F This Movie! listeners and readers probably missed this one when it was first released. Check it out now. Really! See it now, or I will blow up this plane.

I’m sorry – too soon!


  1. I've seen it and it's pretty damn enjoyable, a nice bounceback for Sonnenfeld after the disaster of Wild Wile West.

  2. Agree, it's a nice "lite" and disposable comedy that feels like "Quick Change" (similar soundtrack) but very, very crowded.