Big Bounce, The

Once in a while, people need a hand… I also said — out loud — this guy’s a smart ass, and as long as it’s not turned on me, there’s something good, too.”
— Walter Crewes (Morgan Freeman) On Jack Ryan (Owen Wilson)

Even though the name Jack Ryan is a familiar one to most filmgoers, clear from your head of the hero you had met in “The Hunt for Red October” and “Clear & Present Danger.” The antihero protagonist of “The Big Bounce” shares only the name of Tom Clancy’s most well-known character and, beyond that, little else.

This Jack Ryan traces his roots to Elmore Leonard’s first crime novel in 1969 (before then, the author had only done Westerns), some time before Clancy’s Ryan made his first appearance in 1985’s “The Hunt for Red October.” This Jack Ryan is a surfer, a drifter, and a con man. This Jack Ryan will break into your house and rob you blind if he thinks he can get away with it. This Jack Ryan, at the behest of a comely young woman, will steal your car in order to feel “the bounce,” or the rush. “The Big Bounce” is not the next film in the Clancy canon, by any means– but it fits perfectly with other recent adaptations made of Leonard novels.

In too many ways to count, Ryan is the classic protagonist of an Elmore Leonard novel- someone who holds a troubled past but yet is still ruled by a base set of morals, however skewed. Also holding true to form here is that like any of Leonard’s works– and here reflected through two screenwriters polishing his work for this medium– he imbues his characters with little more than physical descriptions. His focus has always been more on dialogue and personal dynamics to get you into a scene; the reader gets their best sense of Ryan when he is surfing, as many of the moves he makes in the choppy waters are the same ones he uses himself in his interactions with those around him. He doesn’t speak during these vignettes, but somehow these scenes still manage to instill in the viewer a great understanding of the man Jack Ryan is.

Set in present day Hawaii, viewers first meet Ryan as he is fired from his temporary job as a construction worker at Ritchie’s Kawela Bay Beach Hotel. After deciding not to pursue a breaking and entering gig with a friend (he cases the joint, grabbing some wallets and cash from the house), Ryan soon turns to his friend Walter Crewes for help. A justice of the peace, Jack originally goes to him when he is hassled by his former work sitemates; Crewes soon offers Ryan a job at the hotel he owns on the island.

It is there that he becomes infatuated with Nancy Hayes, the mistress of Ray Ritchie, the owner of the hotel site Ryan once worked for. Partly intrigued by Hayes’ beauty, as well as by her standing with Ritchie, he breaks into Ritchie’s house in order to meet the 20-year-old ingenuine. He finds her fascinating, especially in her everyday demeanor of “What’s life without screwing aroundr,” as she asks Ryan at one pint (almost rhetorically). He soon finds himself carjacking a Thunderbird with her, as well as hatching a greater plan to steal $200,000 from Ritchie. Particularly amusing during this area in the script is Hayes’ seduction scene of Ryan, as she is continually interrupted by another gentleman caller visiting the house.

Of course, like any Leonard novel, the scheme gets more complicated as the heist draws nearer, with the main impetus here being Ritchie’s alcoholic wife, Alison, visiting the island. From there, the scheme to steal Ritchie’s money unravels to include lost alibis, two unplanned dead bodies coming into the plot and a whole batch of double-crossings in the script’s final 15 pages.

From the first page, it seems, Ryan has been a pawn in a plan to gain an inheritance to bypass a pre-nuptual agreement. Repeat viewers will catch some of the earlier talk of the double-cross early in the first act.

The script crackles in a number of areas, but a Leonard fan could easily sense what came from the film’s source material and what has been altered by the screenwriters. Still, though, major polishings and tweakings are needed before this begins production on October 28th. There are plot strands that are altogether abandoned (What was the significance of Number Nine at Crewes’ hotelr Was it Hayes that was breaking the storefronts’ windowsr), some spots that need to be dropped (the frequent intercut scenes where Crewes relates Ryan’s actions to two Hawaiian officials, a device that never pans out) and areas that need clarification, such as a better explanation of the link between Ritchie and Crewes. When Hayes explains to Ryan what just transpired at the end, Armitage writes that the character is “having a hard time following” – such is the case with the current version of the script. As currently constructed, viewers will leave the theater not knowing what hit them as well.

The good news is that there is still ample time to make changes for the better, as this script doesn’t look to be locked in as the final production draft. This is a great story, but aside from the plot points mentioned above, there are some pacing problems as well: it is weighted towards the end a great deal– it takes a while to get started– and is in need of some more meat. It should only run 90 -100 minutes as it is written right now, so there is room for this to be bulked up in areas, perhaps with some time devoted to better backstories on the lead characters.

This is the second attempt at a film adaptation of this Leonard novel, with the former film being released the same year as the book hit shelves. Starring Ryan O’Neal in that version, Elmore Leonard has written on his online site that he considers the original to be an awful movie and relates his experience of being in a New York theater for the first time, only to see the trio of filmgoers sitting in front of him walk out. The current film should be met with better critical and audience reaction, if one were to judge from the mainly positive marks given to Leonard’s other recent adapted works, such as “Out of Sight,” “Get Shorty” and “Rum Punch” (which Quentin Tarantino refashioned into “Jackie Brown”).

Much like October’s “Red Dragon,” the producers have asserted that this is a closer retelling of the book, rather than a remake of the earlier film. The script seems very close to the book, save for one difference- the book was originally set in a Michigan resort town, not against the Hawaii backdrop that it has been blessed with here. But it is still closer to the source material than the 1969 film, which had Ryan as a corrupted farmer and the object of affection by two women.

The film can best distinguish itself in theaters with the gifted actors signing on to the project; I’m guessing that a Hawaii location shoot is helping them sign on talent easier than if it were in a more sedate climate of Vancouver, for example.

Ryan will be played by Owen Wilson, who seems to be a perfect fit for the role here. He has both the charisma and the sneakiness required for the role, a role similar to others he has played-perhaps they can also let him take a pass at the current script as well with his writing gifts as well.

Walter Crewes will be played by Morgan Freeman, also a good fit, while Gary Sinese is slated to play the relatively minor role of Ray Ritchie. Still to be cast are a great deal of the supporting roles. Out of Sight offered rising stars Ving Rhames, Steve Zahn, Don Cheadle, Catherine Keener, Luis Guzman and Isaiah Washington, and there are a number of roles here that should catapault a minor star into something more, if cast properly. I would love to see Scott William Winters be considered for the role of Bob Rogers Jr., for example.

Of all the people involved up to this date, the one to keep a close eye on is Sara Foster, who was announced to have won the role of Nancy Hayes this past week. She is the key to this film working. Formerly the host of ET on MTV, I have a feeling she can break out with this role if she hits her marks correctly that the script has left for her-this role is more showy than what “Out of Sight” provided for Jennifer Lopez and “Get Shorty” did for Rene Russo.

But this character is a little more randy than the pair above, she is a true sexpot. When viewers are first introduced to her, she is sunning herself au naturel and she later tells Ryan that her grandmother tells her that the best way to please a man is to “sit on their face.” Her casting is the wild card here– If she can pull these scenes off, then the film works; if Foster does the role too over-the-top, then the film will fail. Her casting is the wild card here.

I’ve long been a fan of Leonard’s works, I’m hoping Armitage does the novel more justice than the 1969 film did. With a few changes to the current script and good luck in Hawaii as they shoot the film, we may be looking at one of 2003’s best audience-received films.

Rating: B