A decent quickie

Family bondage sessions can be such a drag.

Family bondage sessions can be such a drag.

Rated 3.0

After being pulled off the 2001 winter release schedule in the aftermath of 9-11—apparently because it features a nuclear bomb getting through an airport’s security check and onto a plane—director Barry Sonnenfeld’s latest, Big Trouble, finally hits the screens.

Rumors swirled around that the real reason the film was pulled off the winter schedule is that it was a mess in need of serious retooling. Whether or not that’s the case, the finished film is a little sloppy, often funny and surprisingly brief (clocking in at a slim 84 minutes). It’s not one of the director’s better works (Men in Black, Addam’s Family Values), but it is decent, lightweight entertainment with some legitimate hard laughs, and it does provide the cast with the opportunity to have a good time.

Based on the Dave Barry novel of the same name, Big Trouble is a star-jammed screwball comedy that contains echoes of Sonnenfeld’s own Get Shorty (Dennis Farina and Rene Russo star in both films), and even a funny little ode to Dr. Strangelove.

Starring as Eliot Arnold, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist turned advertising executive, Tim Allen delivers on the promise of good work in Galaxy Quest after the hellishness that was 2001’s Joe Somebody. Any of you getting your hopes up that his good work here might be a precursor for things to come should know that Allen is presently hard at work on Santa Clause 2: A Sucky Christmas Movie.

Eliot inadvertently gets caught up in a mess involving a smuggled nuclear bomb, terrorists, dumb cops, petty thieves and big-business crime. Into the mix will come drunken, gun-wielding security guards, hit men who tote their rifles in golf bags and hallucinating dogs. While it’s not clear exactly what the filmmakers are trying to satirize with the film, which lacks substance, the pacing is solid Sonnenfeld, and the laughter is steady, if not uproarious.

The director proves himself a pro at the art of comic repetition, with some of the film’s best gags being repeated two or three times, each time funnier than the other. My favorites would be the hallucinogen-spitting frog in a dog food bowl and a great dig on sports radio fans.

Sonnenfeld has stacked his film with far more stars than your average movie, making it a surprise that it comes in under two hours, let alone 90 minutes. Allen is joined by a platinum blonde Russo as the love interest, Stanley Tucci as a corrupt businessman and assassin’s target and Farina in his usual role as wisecracking thug.

The cast is too huge to fully explore, but the likes of Janeane Garafolo, Patrick Warburton, Tom Sizemore and Andy Richter pitch in. Sizemore is especially funny as a troublemaker turned petty thief who finds himself hilariously involved in that Strangelove homage near film’s end. As Puggy, a tree-dwelling homeless man with an affinity for Fritos, Jason Lee continues to find decent roles away from Kevin Smith films.

The true star of the film proves to be Tucci, a man of massive comic talent. His struggles with Martha Stewart hallucinations and bullet-riddled televisions provide a chance for some memorable, manic behavior. Special honorable mention goes to Richter’s drunken security guard who mistakes a water gun for the real thing, stows his vodka in his jacket pocket and starts shooting.

Surely, the timing for this above-average comedy could not be worse, and the comic portrayal of terrorists and careless airport employees will undoubtedly cause some squirming. Big Trouble is funny and harmless despite the unfortunate subject matter, a feat that makes it better than most comedies on the market.