Screwball Comedy Returns
Dave Barry’s amusing observations cheer me up every Sunday morning. My husband and I both enjoy his weekly column. We also laughed a lot while reading Big Trouble, his first novel, aloud to each other. Still, we couldn’t help worrying about how this very funny book might translate to the big screen. Turns out our fears were unfounded. Big Trouble is just as hilarious as a movie.
Bringing together a zany group of characters, this wild and crazy story features confused hit men, game-playing teens, unlucky police officers, a man who lives in a tree, a beautiful maid, a sleazy businessman, an unhappy wife, a divorced ad agent, a hungry dog, and a hallucinogenic-spitting toad. Whew! I know what you’re thinking. What could all these people/creatures have in common? Besides being at a certain house in Miami on a particular night, they’re the quirkiest bunch seen on screen since the days of those old screwball comedies like You Can’t Take It With You and My Man Godfrey.
Puggy (Jason Lee), a drifter who looks like Jesus and loves corn chips, has taken up residence in a huge tree outside the home of Arthur Herk (Stanley Tucci) and his wife Anna (Rene Russo). On the fateful night in question, two pair of shooters arrive in the Herk yard at the same time --- one gunning for Arthur, the other for his daughter Jenny (Zooey Deschanel). Members of the first duo (Dennis Farina and Jack Kehler) mean business, whereas the other teammates (Ben Foster and D.J. Qualls) carry only a squirt gun. Mayhem ensues when both unsuccessful "shootings" take place simultaneously. Law enforcement officers (Janeane Garofalo and Patrick Warburton) and Eliot Arnold (Tim Allen), father of one of the teenagers involved, immediately enter the fray. And then --- even more outrageous things happen!
Adding Russian gunrunners, bumbling robbers, know-it-all FBI agents, a herd of goats, and a nuclear bomb to this already comic mix creates an explosion of cinematic brouhaha unequalled since It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Because of those tragic 9/11 events (Big Trouble was originally scheduled to open last fall), the film’s airport sequence may bother some viewers, but I think most people will accept this part of the movie now for the over-the-top satire it represents.
Director Barry Sonnenfeld (Get Shorty) and screenwriters Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone (co-writiers of Life) deserve credit for using most of author Barry’s wonderful dialogue, such as this running gag about Gator fans and a radio talk-show host:
I’m a Gator fan and I’m calling.
And what do you have to say?
You said we didn’t have the guts to call, so I’m calling.
Yeah, OK, and so what do you have to say?
I’m sayin’ here I am and I’m calling.
That’s it? You’re calling to say you’re calling?
You said we didn’t have the guts.
And so forth, ad infinitum.
Oops! Just realized I haven’t given kudos to my two favorite members of this fine ensemble cast. Lee (Almost Famous) looks almost beatific as the shaggy, homeless Puggy. Lee plays this role with such gentleness and grace that I fell for him just like Nina, the Herk’s maid (Sofia Vergara), does. Could I be empathizing more with Puggy because I LOVE corn chips, too? Maybe, but I also heartily applaud Farina (Get Shorty), in the role of a hit man from Newark who can’t wait to leave Miami, for projecting such a world-weary attitude and for his eye-rolling disgust at those annoying Gator boosters.
While I have no trouble recommending Big Trouble for fans of screwball comedies, it’s important to warn all disciples of Martha Stewart to avoid this particular film. (Don’t ask.)
(Released by Touchstone Pictures and rated "PG-13" for language, crude humor, and sex-related material.)