If not quite as sharp as it could be, “Big Trouble” is still a sharp, funny movie. Based on the book by Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Berry, it has a terrific cast getting caught up in delicious comic chaos seasoned with a couple of howlingly funny wisecracks.
Tim Allen plays Eliot Arnold, a once-successful columnist reduced to writing ad copy after an altercation wiith his boss. He is held in contempt by his teen-age son Matt (Ben Foster), who is on a quest to “kill” a pretty classmate named Jenny (Zooey Deschanel) by squirting her with a water gun, part of a tag-like contest.
Meanwhile, Arthur (Stanley Tucci), Jenny’s stepfather, is the target of a less benign hitman. It seems that Arthur, a bag man for some bad guys, diverted some of what was in the bag into his own bank account. A couple of cops (Jeaneanne Garofolo and Patrick Warburton), a Frito-loving, tree-sitting, strong but sweet guy with a Jesus hairdo (Jason Lee), some Russians who deal weapons from the back room of a dingy bar, a nuclear device that looks like a garbage disposal, a remarkable number of televisions with their screens shot out, and a flock of goats all manage to play a part before things get resolved.
The translation of book to screen is uneven, primarily because the story is all situation and no character. Even with exceptionally strong personalities in the roles and a director with a refreshing combination of a laid-back tone and a brisk pace, the film still asks too much of the audience by wanting us to care about characters we hardly know.
Parents should know that the movie has comic violence (no one badly hurt), including shooting and scuffles. Characters lie, cheat, steal, smoke, drink, and use bad language. There are comic sexual situations (including a foot fetishist) and brief non-sexual nudity. The scenes involving airport security and a bomb on a plane, the reason the movie’s release was delayed after the terrorist attacks, may cause more twinges than laughter. The movie is at the upper end of the PG-13 rating, closer to an R.
Families who see this movie should talk about the relationship between Matt and Eliot and between Jenny and her mother and step-father. They should also talk about the decision faced by the film-makers following September 11. Should they have changed the story, in addition to delaying the release?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Rat Race.