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The Big Bounce


Movie review by Greg Carlson

Elmore Leonard’s “The Big Bounce” has been made once before, in 1969 with Ryan O’Neal and Leigh Taylor-Young, and the new version is just as forgettable as the old one. With a great director like George Armitage, who made the fantastic “Miami Blues,” one expects to enjoy clever dialogue, smooth plotting, and sharp performances, but none of these are on display this time around. Instead, the audience suffers through scene after endless scene of model-turned-actress Sara Foster struggling to be taken seriously while comic-savant Owen Wilson struggles to take her seriously.

Even bad caper movies usually yield some kind of satisfying element, but “The Big Bounce” cannot muster a single entertaining moment. The hit-or-miss storyline follows the crooked path of small-time hustler and layabout Jack Ryan (Wilson), an aimless wiseass with a knack for breaking and entering and a penchant for toothsome beach bunnies. While working for unscrupulous real estate developer Ray Ritchie (Gary Sinise, snarling), Ryan smacks his foreman (Vinnie Jones) with a baseball bat, which attracts the attention of local justice Walter Crewes (Morgan Freeman). Besides presiding over a courtroom, Crewes owns a beachfront resort, and figures he might be able to use Ryan in a plot against rival Ritchie.

Enter Nancy Hayes (Foster) a wicked bombshell with trouble on her mind. While her allegiances are not entirely clear, she manages to be the mistress of Ritchie at the same time she is playing both Ryan and Bob Rogers (Charlie Sheen, sporting impressive facial hair), Ritchie’s toady. Of course, one immediately realizes she is also in cahoots with Crewes, but none of the connections proves terribly important or interesting. Instead, the movie sets up a series of aimless sequences in which Foster can tempt the poor suckers with her barely-clothed body. Despite an abundance of exposed flesh, zero chemistry exists between Wilson and Foster, which makes for a long slog.

By the final act, “The Big Bounce” has descended into slapstick farce, heralded by the arrival of Ritchie’s brittle wife Alison (Bebe Neuwirth), another player who knows much more than she lets on. Double and triple crosses rocket by at lightspeed, but by this time nobody cares. At one point, Walter cryptically explains to Ryan that sometimes, things “are exactly as they appear” – and in “The Big Bounce,” those things are listless, dull and devoid of any energy.

This version of “The Big Bounce” is set in Hawaii, and the stunning locations try to mask the fact that nothing much ever happens. The bulk of Sebastian Gutierrez’s screenplay feels improvised, but the sluggish pace of the action undermines any wit and charm that might otherwise have emerged from the writing. Weirdly enough, Willie Nelson and Harry Dean Stanton are on hand to crack wise and play dominoes with Crewes. Both of these salty veterans seem better suited to the type of characters that populate Leonard’s colorful world, but their fleeting screen time offers only a glimpse at what might have been. Everything else in “The Big Bounce” is so unfocused that the screen looks practically blurry.

This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 2/23/04.

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