Big Trouble

Movie Information

Genre: Comedy
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Starring: Tim Allen, Rene Russo, Jason Lee, Stanley Tucci, Dennis Farina
Rated: PG-13

If anyone had told me that I’d actually like a Tim Allen movie, I would have raised some pertinent questions as to whether or not said person should be allowed to walk around unsupervised … but I have to admit that I actually enjoyed this one. Maybe it has something to do with being an ex-Floridian and the fact that it makes good use of its Miami setting. Or maybe it’s the array of jokes based on owning a yellow Geo Storm, since such has also been my lot in life. However I think it has more to do with the fact that it’s not a Tim Allen vehicle per se, but a film with Tim Allen as part of a great ensemble cast. Plus, it’s hard to dislike any movie that boasts Stanley Tucci hallucinating that a dog with Martha Stewart’s head is trying to steal his soul. Then there’s the fact that the film is also pretty stylish, pretty savvy, filled with great bits of very dry humor, and moves at a lightning pace for its entire 85-minute running time. In an era when far too many movies are in the 120-plus minute range — whether or not they have sufficient plot or point to justify that length — it’s refreshing to find one (at least one that isn’t animated or wasn’t made by Woody Allen) that dares to be just the length it needs to be. It’s the old Hollywood exchange — “How long should it be?” “How long is it good?” — that seems to have largely been forgotten in recent years. The makers of Big Trouble have remembered it and profited by it handsomely. Originally slated for a Sept. 21 release, the film was pushed back after the events of Sept. 11 caused the studio to question the advisability of releasing a movie with comical terrorists that poked fun at airport security. Since the entire premise of Big Trouble centers on a nuclear bomb (consistently mistaken for a garbage disposal) that keeps changing hands and ends up ticking away on a flight headed for the Bahamas, it wasn’t possible to simply remove the “offensive” material, so Touchstone opted to just bide their time. It was probably a wise decision. It certainly was wiser than trying to significantly rework the film. The script is based on a novel by Miami Herald columnist Dave Barry and therein lies much of its strength. The screenplay by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone (Destiny Turns on the Radio) does a good job of translating Barry’s trademark style of humor (much of which is grounded in the repetition of off-center ideas, such as the fact that nearly everyone in the film is seen reading Martha Stewart’s Living at one time or another and the running gag about the Geo). The screenplay also captures writer’s love-hate relationship with Miami and preserves the deliberately convoluted plot. With the assistance of director Sonnenfeld, the film showcases the world of Barry’s Miami, an exaggerated personal vision grounded in just enough reality to be believably funny. In a variation on his character in Snatch, Dennis Farina takes one look at the place as he exits Miami International Airport and remarks, “So this is Miami? They can keep it.” He proceeds to get a look at the city — everything from an idiotic radio talk show that belabors the same non-point every time he turns on the radio to a variety of encounters with escaped goats — that only serves to confirm his belief that he’s in “Weirdsville, U.S.A.” Not everything in the film works, but it all moves so fast and with such quirky assurance that it hardly matters. Big Trouble offers a lot of good-natured, clever, goofy fun.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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