Big Bounce, The (BrianOrndorf)
January 30th, 2004
A copious amount of Hawaiian locations detracts from the machinations of Elmore Leonard’s prose in “The Big Bounce,” but how can I complain? This loose adaptation doesn’t have much of a focal point outside of surfing footage and bikinis, but even that tires when it becomes clear the film is a mess, and is shamelessly coasting on Owen Wilson’s charm.
Jack Ryan (Owen Wilson) is a drifter/con man who has found a home in Hawaii taking odd jobs and skimming cash off the tourists. When Nancy (former model Sara Foster), a mysterious mistress to a local entrepreneur (Gary Sinise), comes on to Jack, he can’t resist, and the two head off for some serious flirting and the exchange of local information. Nancy has a bead on $200,000 that could easily be stolen, and she needs Jack’s expertise to help her. Finding himself under the watchful eye of a judge (Morgan Freeman) and a group of local thugs (Charlie Sheen and Vinnie Jones), Jack is stuck in a situation where he doesn’t know who to trust or what to do.
“The Big Bounce” has the novelty of being based on the first crime novel writer Elmore Leonard published (which became a Ryan O‘Neal film in 1969). Leonard later went on to write the pulp novels “Get Shorty" and “Out of Sight”. It also has the distinction of being the one-millionth motion picture to weave a web of double-crossing, wisecracking, and general criminal tomfoolery in recent years. “Bounce” has the source material, locales, and cast to send it into a nice comfortable orbit of good times and honestly surprising switcheroos, but the film can never seem to find its way out of neutral.
Normally a responsible director, George Armitage (“Miami Blues” and the neo-classic “Grosse Pointe Blank”) does have a convincing distraction to blame for the ineffectiveness of “Bounce.” Clearly Armitage has fallen in love with his Hawaiian locations, and he takes greater care in detailing the crystal blue waves and heaven sent bikinis than anything concerning the story, which ends up about the same consistency as a bowl of poi by film’s end. The screenplay by Sebastian Gutierrez attempts to establish several plot threads for Armitage and his characters to work with, but the filmmaker isn’t interested in those swarming complications. “Bounce” actually ends before any of the plot has a chance for closure, and I can’t really blame the filmmaker at all. Who wouldn’t want to spend the day shooting stunning blondes touring beaches or surfers pipelining rolling waves? It makes the disorganization of the film almost forgivable.
However, there is a story here, and after too many years of playing on the obnoxious side of his personality (“Shanghai Knights“ and “Behind Enemy Lines“), star Wilson finds a much better match to the “Bounce” material than in any of his recent starring work. There’s absolutely nothing strenuous about the story that would confront Wilson’s chirpy charm. He’s incredibly relaxed and the only cast member to get a laugh out of the tired script, which will be fraudulently filed under “comedy” when this film hits video stores within the month. None of the actors are taxed all that terribly in “Bounce,” and the film ends up being more of a coming out party for co-star Sara Foster’s tepid appeal and tattooed backside than a competent film odyssey.
While “Big Bounce” should satisfy the easily appeased fans of double-cross cinema, there have been far too many better examples of the swindle-and-steal genre within the last three years that it makes “Big Bounce” almost pointless in comparison. For fans of Hawaii only.
My rating: D+