The Big Bounce (2004) / Comedy-Thriller

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual content, brief nudity, violence and language
Running Time: 89 min.

Cast: Owen Wilson, Sara Foster, Morgan Freeman, Charlie Sheen, Gary Sinise, Bebe Neuwirth  
Director: George Armitage

Screenplay: Sebastian Gutierrez (based on the novel by Elmore Leonard)
Review published January 31, 2004

One of the many reasons that people enjoy reading Elmore Leonard is for the observations made by the colorful characters, and the asides they make are just as enjoyable as the overall story itself.  Films based on Leonard's books have transferred well in recent years -- Out of Sight, Get Shorty, Jackie Brown -- made by directors who understand that proper use of dialogue will draw the attention of audiences into the characters, and once those characters see action, we know them well enough to be interested in anything they do or say after that point.

The Big Bounce is the second time the Elmore Leonard novel of the same name has been made, the first in 1969, starring Ryan O'Neal.  That film was a critical failure and this 2004 version doesn't fare too well either, despite having a very talented cast and nice locale work to bolster it.  The central problem?  Too much filler, not enough substance.  While the more successful Leonard adaptations have had their moments of interesting dialogue, they were always done while ensconced in a forward moving plot.  The Big Bounce, as adapted by Sebastian Gutierrez (Gothika), has almost no story to it at all, finally getting around to some plot developments in the last third.  By that time, it's too little too late. 

Owen Wilson (Shanghai Noon, Zoolander) plays Jack Ryan, a beach bum who ekes out a living in Hawaii performing small-time jobs like B&E's (breaking and entering) and getting in and out of trouble with the law.  A local district judge (Freeman, Shawshank Redemption) sees Jack needs a break, offering him a place to stay and some cash to be the handyman for some bungalows he owns.  In the meantime, Ryan gets romantically involved with Nancy (Sara Foster, in her debut), the current trophy girlfriend of Ray Ritchie (Sinise, Of Mice and Men) a dangerous high roller in the area, who has a scheme of her own to snatch $200,000 from her verbally abusive man.

The Big Bounce starts off well, establishing its characters and sense of style early, with Wilson delivering his usual off-the-wall quips aplenty.  It doesn't take long for us to meet all of the main players, most of them within the first fifteen minutes.  The problem is that once we know who these people are and their respective situations, the film treads water for over an hour, showing us the same people doing the same things over and over.  The plot never moves forward, and in fact, is barely even dealt with, shelved in order to try to gain some meager chuckles with Wilson playing Romeo with Foster, in addition to having some hackneyed confrontations with some of the other would-be suitors.

So, we have a good cast, punchy direction by George Armitage (Grosse Pointe Blank), and the usual funky music punctuating the segue scenes, all typical for a Leonard adapted flick.  With all of the positive attributes, it's a shame there wasn't anywhere they could go with the material.  The Big Bounce is a nice looking nothing of a movie, so lackadaisical, you'll probably zone out before the halfway point is reached.  Not to worry, though.  Since nothing's going on for most of it, you could probably nap for an hour and still have enough information to know what's going on during the final scenes, if you even care.  The Big Bounce lives up to its name by falling back to earth every time it looked like it was going to take off.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo