The Big Empty (2003) / Comedy-Mystery

MPAA Rated: R for language and sexuality
Running Time: 94 min.

Cast: Jon Favreau, Rachel Leigh Cook, Joey Lauren Adams, Adam Beach, Daryl Hannah, Kelsey Grammar, Jon Gries, Brent Briscoe, Sean Bean, Bud Cort, Melora Walters, Gary Farmer
Director: Steve Anderson
Screenplay: Steve Anderson

Review published August 18, 2005

Why should I write anything when the title writes the review for me?  The Big Empty is one of those esoteric comedies that seems like a deeper film than it should ever be given credit for being, thanks to some motifs and obvious symbolism that begs for you to put all of the pieces together.  Sometimes a film like this merits a repeat viewing to try to construct and interesting hypothesis and sometimes the lack of genuine entertainment makes such a prospect seem more laborious than its worth.  The Big Empty falls squarely into the latter category.

Jon Favreau (Daredevil, Made), who served as executive producer for this low budget project, stars as John Person, a struggling actor with mounting debts and seemingly no way out of his financial hole.  That's when a kooky neighbor of his makes a proposition whereby John will deliver a blue suitcase out to a man named Cowboy out in the middle of desert country in exchange for the money he needs to pay off his debts.  John agrees to do the job, but finds that Cowboy is somewhat elusive, leaving him to mingle with the eccentric local yokels until he can make the drop-off.  Complications ensue, especially when jealous boyfriends, nosy federal officers, and crazy hookers get in the mix.

A quality cast almost makes this tedious exercise bearable, with a solid performance by Jon Favreau, who scores some decent ad libs amid an otherwise stiff screenplay.  The Big Empty was made by first-time writer director Steve Anderson, who does show a flair for decent visuals and interesting characters, but fails to truly hook us into the story before sending the entire thing into the Twilight Zone.  Like many independent filmmakers, Anderson relishes making his characters as zany and his situations as off-kilter as possible, and although he does produce a clever moment here and there, perhaps the film as a whole is too clever for its own good.  Perhaps Anderson knows exactly what he was trying to do here, and I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.  I gave up bothering to try to figure it out.

Modestly amusing at times, The Big Empty isn't a film completely without merit, but its attempts at obscurity makes this an all-too frustrating experience for anyone that really wants to follow a good story with interesting characters.  As it is, it may please viewers that adore offbeat films, especially ones that like trying to solve the riddles that may be contained within.  For all others, The Big Empty fizzes out like yesterday's can of soda. 

-- European releases run about 10 minutes longer than the US release, and probably make more sense 

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo