The Big Bounce is an essay in the relativity of things. Had this film been released during any other week than the one that also brought us You Got Served and The Perfect Score, it would seem like a really, really bad movie. Coming this week, though, it only seems like a not-very-good movie with a few occasional bright spots along the way.
For the record, this is the second attempt at bringing this Elmore Leonard novel to the screen. The first was in 1969, when the pulp-noir author’s work served as a vehicle for Ryan O’Neal and then-girlfriend Leigh Taylor-Young. That rendition, played as a fairly straight noir drama, was directed by former (and subsequent) TV director Alex March — and looks it. George Armitage’s new version — or what’s left of it — is played mostly for laughs, and at least looks like a movie.
At one time it might have been a better film, but the powers that be at Warner Bros. decided to “fix” it. Apparently, their biggest inspiration was to cut the film down and overdub chunks of it to secure a PG-13 (rather than an R) rating. Well, they got the desired rating anyway, even if it involved some amazingly clumsy overdubbing that occasionally renders the subsequent dialogue incomprehensible. They also got themselves a confusing botch-job of a movie.
I won’t say the studio ruined Armitage’s film, because it’s obvious this was never a great movie to begin with. No amount of extra footage is going to make Morgan Freeman’s lazy performance anything else, nor is it likely to make Charlie Sheen or Willie Nelson look any less baffled at their presence here. Indeed, most of the name cast has the air of folks who signed onto the picture for a Hawaiian vacation. It’s impossible, I think, for Freeman to actually be bad, but there’s clearly a sense here — apart from his amused delivery of the line, “God is an imaginary friend for grownups” — that he’s content to coast on his natural dignity and pick up his check.
Post-production meddling may be responsible for the peculiar manner in which the characters comport themselves. God knows, as the movie stands, motivation exists solely to keep the plot going. Worse, everyone behaves in such an improbable manner that you can’t but expect that you’re wading through double-cross after double-cross in order to arrive at a Big Surprise. The problem is that it’s not a surprise if you’re expecting it. I certainly hope the wrap-up scene is this transparent only because of wholesale cutting (which makes one character utterly superfluous except for this lame payoff!).
The plot is too unwieldy to synopsize and scarcely makes enough sense to spend a lot of time trying to sort it out. Owen Wilson — who, along with Bebe Neuwirth, actually makes the movie worth watching — plays Jack Ryan (no, not the Tom Clancy Jack Ryan), a petty thief and general ne’er do well. Jack earns the apparent respect of local semi-retired judge Walter Crewes (Freeman) when Jack gets into a fight with his construction-crew supervisor and wallops the fellow with a baseball bat. This behavior shuts down the construction of a luxury hotel by the villainous Ray Ritchie (Gary Sinise), which suits Walter, who keeps Jack out of the hoosegow and gives him a somewhat nebulous job as a kind of handyman at his own “resort.” Jack, in the meantime, gets involved with more petty thieving, locks horns with Ray’s second-in-command (Sheen), and becomes romantically involved with Ray’s mistress, Nancy (fashion model turned actress Sara Foster). Nancy likes the “romance” of running around with a criminal, and goads Jack, by way of cockeyed courtship, into showing her how to steal a car and break into a house — before unveiling her plan that they should undertake to steal $200,000 from Ray.
The whole thing soon devolves into a silly game of “who can you trust?” The answer for the characters is pretty much nobody, while the answer for viewers is screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez (Gothika), who can be counted on to twist the plot exactly in the direction you most expect. Bounce is finally a mildly diverting 90 minutes along a very familiar path with a handful of truly funny moments (including one very un-PC gag about closet “show queens”) and some nice picture-postcard views of Hawaii.
There are worse things, sure — and since we’re between major releasing seasons for the studios, you can bet a whole bunch of awful is headed your way. But that’s the closest to a recommendation that I’m giving.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke