Nothing heats up a dull January moviegoing season like an action-packed heist film and The Big Bounce has the right recipe: Take one tropical location one craggy criminal (he's the good guy) one very hot girl and a heist scheme then add a platitude-spouting judge a backstabbing pal and somebody's angry ex-wife. Mix things up for an hour and a half and serve with a paper umbrella. Voila--instant winter hit. But not so fast. Even though it has all the right ingredients The Big Bounce is missing a few key flavors. The heist is all about a whopping $200 000 for one thing which is a lot to you and me but in movie terms is somewhat reminiscent of Dr. Evil's simpering request for one meelion dollars in Austin Powers. The bad boy apparent one very wealthy "Mr. Ritchie " played by a pasty Gary Sinise (aka this decade's box office kiss of death…think Impostor The Human Stain Reindeer Games…) has about two scenes--obviously setting the audience up for the so-called twist at the end.
A sun-kissed Owen Wilson as handsome petty thief Jack makes the surface of The Big Bounce borderline palatable and Sara Foster as Nancy Jack's love interest and Mr. Ritchie's gal pal is no slouch in the looks department either. Her character has more bikini changes than Annette Funicello and she's got a zest for life on the edge that's moderately charming even if she keeps asking "Where's the bounce?" when anyone with eyes can see exactly where the bounce is. Foster's version of beach blanket bingo is more the car stealing breaking and entering variety and she's the mastermind behind the plot to steal Ritchie's paltry $200K--for the thrill of it of course. To get at the money she uses--you guessed it--her sex appeal to manipulate Bob Rogers played by perennial hack Charlie Sheen whose most successful characters these days all seem to be pathetic weenies like poor ol' sap Bob. But the burning and still-unanswered question is: What in the name of all that's sacred is Morgan Freeman doing in this slapdash piece of celluloid? We may never ever know.
The Big Bounce is based on an Elmore Leonard novel which as movie patrons already know can be a good thing (Get Shorty). Director George Armitage (Grosse Point Blank) shows us with his rendition of Leonard's work that it can in fact also be a very bad thing. Aside from the fact that the beautiful Hawaiian landscape looks like it was shot with a slightly fogged up disposable camera and the surf scenes can't even hold a candle to Blue Crush the blatant editing gaffes are the worst of it. Characters ask the same questions repeatedly when they and the audience already know the answers and the actors stand unnaturally still as the camera lingers on them while they converse in voiceover. But the dialogue may actually be worse than the editing. Rather than take the best Leonard has to offer--quirky characters and twisting plotlines--Armitage took the worst--cheesy noirish dialogue and campy one-liners reminiscent of the pulp Westerns Leonard was writing just before turning to crime novel writing with The Big Bounce his first in that genre.
Brace yourself Dr. Laura. This clueless teen queen (Natasha Lyonne) has it all: good looks a football captain boyfriend and a popular pair of pom-poms. But her candy-colored world crumbles when her panicked parents stage an intervention after finding a Melissa Etheridge poster that leads them to conclude she's a friend of Ellen. After being carted off to an anti-gay rehab camp for teens the perky princess must choose between the straight and narrow-minded or the love that dare not speak its name.
The quirky ensemble casting is half this film's fun. Lyonne is charming as the pepster tempted by T&A and she sparks onscreen with swanky and sexy co-star Clea DuVall who plays the butch femme fatale suitor (alarmingly reminiscent of Nancy McKeon's Jo from "The Facts of Life.") Drag queen supreme RuPaul is unrecognizable out of his high heels and even higher blond wig wearing a "Straight is Great" T-shirt as a macho militant ex-gay counselor. Cathy Moriaty is sweetly sinister as the homophobic headmistress and Mink Stole steals scenes as the uptight upright meddling mom.
Kudos to Jamie Babbit for tackling this hot-potato topic but this well-intentioned film too often misses its mark turning potentially comical scenes into unbearably awkward moments. Babbit fouls when tugging at the heartstrings but hits home runs when the humor is at its broadest.