Big Trouble at the Cineplex
The shadow of September 11 still darkens front page headlines almost daily, and continues to color film criticism almost every week. Two big movies this week are being criticized for inappropriateness in view of last fall's devastating events. Big Trouble is under fire for lightly treating the threat of nuclear terror, and High Crimes is harassed for portraying the American military as thoroughly corrupt.
Those aren't the only new titles offending critics. But the other headline-grabbing releases are bothersome for far different reasons. National Lampoon's Van Wilder is as crass as they come. Kissing Jessica Stein, while popular with mainstream critics, bothers conservative viewers for condoning a homosexual romance. And the year's most highly acclaimed foreign release, a Mexican teen drama called Y Tu Mama Tambien, is stirring up discussions about whether graphic sex acts can ever be portrayed as art rather than pornography. (Film Forum will offer reviews on the film next week.) But according to some critics, even a few in the religious press, these controversial titles are not without considerable merit.
Hot from the Oven
Based on a novel by humorist Dave Barry, Big Trouble introduces a long list of characters and more than a dozen storylines. All of them are concerned with the journey of a suitcase from one caper to another. It's not an ordinary suitcase—it contains a nuclear bomb. Tim Allen, Renee Russo, Patrick Warburton (The Dish), and other familiar faces populate this zany release from director Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black). And yet, like last week's Death to Smoochy, this celebrity-packed movie has critics wondering how so much talent could produce such disappointing work.
Steven Isaac (Focus on the Family) says, "Big Trouble works like a giant funnel, channeling radically disparate elements into one final blowup. Literally. [It] offers more than a couple of scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny. But they're outnumbered by the ones that are squirm-in-your-seat awkward. It's disappointing that in Big Trouble, all the crafty, clever, genuinely funny stuff gets hidden behind the off-color jokes and crude gags."
Likewise, Lisa Rice (Movieguide) writes, "Despite some clever special effects … the cute storyline and some funny, exciting moments, Big Trouble falls way short. Too many of the gags were silly, inane, and uninteresting. The foul language was excessive, the characters were void of moral compasses, and the violence was irritating."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops critic goes easy on the caper, calling it a "witty but slight farce" with "amiable performances."
Some argue that, although Big Trouble was made before September 11 (it was originally scheduled to release September 21), its humorous treatment of terrorism should have provoked the studio to cancel its release entirely. Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) writes, "We cannot ignore the fact that there are scenes in this film which may trigger painful memories … especially in those who were most personally affected by those tragic events."
Elliott does give the film some credit: "With a talented ensemble cast … [Sonnenfeld] manages to capture the irreverent and often hilarious writing style of Dave Barry. The ensemble cast … light up the screen with comedic brilliance."
But Douglas Downs (Christian Spotlight) argues, "Disney's Touchstone pictures can blame all they want on rotten timing … there are many other ingredients that make this offbeat comedy lean more to the 'off' side. Big Trouble is without a doubt a big waste of time."