The Big Bounce

Robin Clifford 
The Big Bounce
Laura Clifford 

Jack Ryan (Owen Wilson) is a drifter specializing in petty theft and breaking and entry who has transported himself to the beautiful Hawaiian Islands to try to start a new life. But, the devil-may-care loner can’t not get himself into trouble and he goes bat-to-jaw with the tough foreman (Vinnie Jones) of big shot contractor Ray Ritchie (Gary Sinise), losing his construction job. He is “requested” to get off of the island by Ray’s henchman, Bob Jr. (Charlie Sheen), but is diverted by Judge Walter Crewes (Morgan Freeman) who takes an unusual interest in the vagabond in “The Big Bounce.”

Pulp crime writer Elmore Leonard has had a pretty good track record of successful adaptations of his novels, such as “Get Shorty,” “Out of Sight” and “Jackie Brown.” “The Big Bounce” brings this positive streak to an abrupt end in a confused, senseless story that is actually a remake of a 1969 adaptation of the author’s novel, starring Ryan O’Neil. The overwhelming question I have with the new release is: Why bother?

Owen Wilson is always a likable bloke whether it be in a drama as a downed fighter pilot in “Behind Enemy Lines” or the Old West surfer dude in the “Shanghai Noon” franchise. He is one of the few positive notes in “The Big Bounce,” a film that lacks both story and direction as it meanders towards its mediocre conclusion. Jack, supposedly trying to make a new life, comes to Hawaii to give it a go in the legit world. He soon eschews the bull**** of the “normal” life, loses his job and once again reverts to his petty crime ways to bring in a few bucks. During one of his B&Es he notices Ritchie’s pretty, young mistress, Nancy (Sara Foster), and is immediately smitten with the free spirited young woman.

Jack takes on the job as caretaker for the Judge Walter’s dozen tourist bungalows but can’t get Nancy out of is mind. When she proposes a scam to rip Ray off of $200,000 in mob bribe money, Jack gives his patented “I’ll check it out” response. But, this is a pseudo-caper flick and, of course, Jack will go for the bait of a big paycheck and, hopefully, get the girl.

Without more than a fleeting familiarity with Leonard’s original work it is a little hard to place the blame for “The Big Bounce“ on any one set of shoulders. I have to hazard the guess that it is a cluster foul up that starts with the original material and continues with the adaptation by Sebastian Guttierez. The result is an incoherent mishmash of episodes that never congeals into a complete story.

I guess the “caper” of “The Big Bounce” is the theft of the 200 grand that Ray Ritchie keeps on hand to pay off the mob controlled unions in order to build his environmentally unconscionable luxury hotel on the pristine Hawaiian island. Ray is not so polite to his latest fling, Nancy, while his wife Alison (Bebe Neuwirth) is away, and the blonde bombshell recruits Jack to scam Ray out of the $200K. A sense of better judgment struggles in Jack’s head when he realizes that he is a mere pawn in everyone else’s plan, including Nancy and Walter.

But, the caper angle is not well defined and there is little to keep you interested as the multithreaded story unfolds. “The Big Bounce” represents the waste of a lot of acting talent. Owen Wilson fares OK and his Jack is a charismatic character. But, the likes of such veterans as Morgan Freeman, Gary Sinise, Bebe Neuwirth and Willie Nelson given little more than cameo roles indicates that this is, at best, sloppy filmmaking. Newcomer Sara Foster, as the pivotal character Nancy, gives an affected and unconvincing perf, although she does look fine in a bikini. Watch for a brief appearance by the great Harry Dean Stanton.

Director George Armitage does not make any points as “The Big Bounce” meanders along with its uninvolving story. My reaction, as the film struggles to its end, was to wish it to just be over. This is not a good thing for a comedy/caper film. I give it a C-.

When Jack Ryan (Owen Wilson, "Shanghai Knights") whacks bigoted construction foreman Lou Harris (Vinnie Jones, "Swordfish") on the head with a baseball bat, he draws the amused attention of District Judge Walter Crewes (Morgan Freeman, "Bruce Almighty"), who takes the petty criminal under his wing.  It seems Crewes also dislikes real estate developer Ray Ritchie (Gary Sinise, "The Human Stain"), who builds new resorts despite the protests of native Hawaiians. When Ritchie's mistress, Nancy Hayes (newcomer Sara Foster), draws Jack's eye, Walter warns him that she's nothing but trouble, but trouble is Jack's middle name in the second adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel, "The Big Bounce."

What drew the aforementioned cast in addition to Charlie Sheen, Bebe Neuwirth, Willie Nelson and Harry Dean Stanton to a second try at "The Big Bounce?"  Some fun in the Hawaiian sun is the only explanation.  Owen Wilson has the amazing ability to charm his way out of the most dreadful material, and Freeman is capable of the same as long as he's coasting in comedy, but aside from watching these guys relax and have fun, there is little else to recommend "The Big Bounce."

After a stint in the pokie, Jack decides to stick around, even after Ray's right hand man, Bob Jr. (Charlie Sheen, "Scary Movie 3") tries to scare him off.  With a handyman gig and accommodations at Walter's dozen bungalow sideline, Jack picks up some extra bucks robbing a boxful of wallets at a party.  His driver Frank (Gregory Sporleder, "S.W.A.T."), who owes $1500 to the wrong crowd, becomes another liability on Jack's list.  Nancy flirts with Jack and attempts to draw him into a plot to rob Ray of $200,000.  Perfectly laid plans are upended when Nancy's sway over Bob Jr. proves weaker than that of his big-haired wife and the arrival of Mrs. Alison Ritchie (Bebe Neuwirth, "Le Divorce") becomes yet another obstacle to hurdle in the path to Ray's safe.

This Elmore Leonard story adapted by Sebastian Gutierrez ("Gothika") is full of double crosses and double double crosses, but it is so inconsequential that none of them surprise or matter. The film's funniest line is a throwaway joke tossed off by Crewes crony Bob Rogers, Sr. (Harry Dean Stanton, "Anger Management") during a domino game that goes by so quickly it is easy to miss ('A skeleton walks into a bar and says 'Gimme a pitcher of beer and a mop.') and its funniest bit involves a conversation on a stolen cell phone that does nothing to advance the plot.  The movie is sprinkled with non sequiturs, such as a boxing match between Nancy and Jack that is suddenly a condition of a bet whose conditions had already been agreed upon.

Of the supporting cast, only Charlie Sheen makes any impact largely due to his readiness to poke fun at himself.  Newcomer Foster is attractive but her performance is bland and the talented Neuwirth cannot do much more with the alcoholic Alison that display a knack for physical slapstick.  The mugs of Willie Nelson and Harry Dean are welcome in roles that are little more than cameos, but former soccer star Jones is becoming tiring in his thug niche.

Director George Armitage's ("Grosse Point Blank") direction is lackluster.  The film limps along, tiring at less than ninety minutes.  Cinematographer Jeffrey L. Kimball ("Paycheck") gets plenty of eye popping scenery, including bikinied babes, but frequently his shots are so fuzzy it looks like his lens was covered with sea spray.  Composer George S. Clinton ("The Santa Clause 2") takes the easy route with typical island sounds.

"The Big Bounce" is sure to do exactly that as soon as it lands in theaters.


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