Watched once, indifferent
There are a few seemingly good reasons to give this film a shot: the cast (Owen Wilson, Morgan Freeman, Charlie Sheen, Gary Sinise, Vinnie Jones, Bebe Neuwirth, Henry Dean Stanton, and a cameo from Willie Nelson), the source material (Elmore Leonard’s 1969 novel of the same name), and genre (criminal comedy). But as with cooking, just because you like the ingredients on their own doesn’t mean you’ll like them together. Think steak smothered in peanut butter.
How did I acquire this film?
Another used rental gemstone!
What do I remember about watching this film the first time?
I don’t remember much about this film. In a word, it was “meh” I guess? I can only summarize it as a comedy about criminals. Maybe I missed something important…
What’s this really about?
Jack (Owen Wilson) is a petty criminal trying to make a fresh start in Hawaii working on a construction crew that is helping big shot developer Ray Ritchie (Gary Sinise) pave a path for further gentrification of the island. Jack is helping to clear a patch of land for a new development in the midst of indigenous protesters breaking the line to try and shut down the operation. While playing baseball with the crew on break, Jack confronts Ritchie’s goons Lou Harris (Vinnie Jones) and Bob Rogers (Charlie Sheen) after overhearing Lou call an indigenous protester a coconut n****r.
Let’s pause for a second and look at this moment (just a couple minutes into the film) because this is really where the movie goes downhill and never redeems itself. I think this opening scene starts to lay a strong foundation for what this movie could’ve been, I’m thinking a blockbuster crime comedy with a promising cast based on some great source material. We have the scene, a bright and beautiful Hawaiian island, part of our ensemble cast, and conflict in the threat of environmental degradation and gentrification. Good ingredients, right? Well, think about biting into that peanut butter steak.
I don’t think Wilson is great by any means, but I’ve been entertained by him, and sometimes pure entertainment is enough. Big Bounce is released in 2004, and during this time Wilson has just finished Shanghai Noon (2000), Zoolander (2001), and Shanghai Knights (2003), and is going on to star alongside Vince Vaughn in Wedding Crashers (2005). Vinnie Jones has been introduced to Hollywood in Guy Richie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000). The early 2000s have some crime comedy hits (Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Twelve, Catch Me If You Can). And Elmore Leonard’s novels have had successful adaptations (Jackie Browne, Get Shorty, Be Cool). Also, we don’t know Charlie Sheen is bangin’ 7-gram rocks on the daily yet.
Here in the first two minutes of the scene we get a lot of promising information. The “bad guys” (Sinise, Sheen, and Jones) are destroying indigenous land for profit. And even though many of us Western viewers are complicit in the destruction of indigenous land and culture, we still like to see a movie where the rich guys fall and the people win (spoiler, you’re most likely part of the Empire, not the Rebel Alliance). So here we are in the middle of conflict where the construction crew is taking a break from blowing up palm trees and indigenous people are yelling from behind police lines trying to save their land, and as tensions mount between the two groups, Vinnie Jones drops an N-bomb, or a C-N-bomb to be precise. I’m rewatching this in 2020 and Vinnie Jones’ racial slur hits hard, and in a couple of seconds he’s going to take a Louisville Slugger to the face that hits almost as hard, but not before Owen Wilson has to repeat the C-N-slur a couple of times for what I assume is supposed to make the audience laugh. It’s bad, up there with Tarantino in Pulp Fiction. Wilson’s character should’ve never repeated the slur. He should’ve kept his mouth shut and swung away. But he repeats it a couple of times, then he swings away and all feels somewhat right again. But this movie never attempts to readdress the issues of environmental destruction, racism, or gentrification that are primed in that first scene. Instead, the movie moves on to become this really hokey crime romance comedy.
After Jack hits Lou we cut to Judge Walter Crewes (Morgan Freeman) replaying the footage and chuckling to himself. Judge Crewes decides to take Jack under his wing and hire him as a maintenance worker at his little bed and breakfast. There’s not much motivation for this decision, other than we can assume a black man really appreciates seeing a racist get bashed, and Crewes says he doesn’t like the developers. While out having dinner with Crewes, Jack notices Nancy (Sarah Foster) who turns out to be Ray Ritchie’s young mistress. The two become acquainted and go on little dates where Jack teaches Nancy how to get away with petty crimes. Pretty soon Nancy convinces Jack to help her still $200,000 from Ritchie.
Fast forward through a terrible second act and when we finally get to the heist we learn that Nancy, Judge Crewes, and Ritchie’s wife (Bebe Neuwirth) have set Jack up in an elaborate scheme to kill Ritchie and take the money for themselves. Does it feel like I dropped all of this out of nowhere? Good, that’s exactly how it happens in the movie. I like a good plot twist every now and again, but this revelation isn’t really rewarding at all, other than to clear up why all of these people would befriend Jack. Jack outsmarts them somehow and takes off with the money. End of movie.
This movie sucked. The takeaway is you need more than good ingredients to make something tasty. You need to know how those ingredients work together and use them accordingly. This movie did the early 2000’s thing and tried to use offensive content for humor, so it definitely didn’t age well now that we are in 2020, and that to me is a good thing. The racial slur needed to be said no more than one time. They attempt to use homophobia for humor. There’s a scene where Jack and Nancy break into a hypermasculine cop’s house and find out he’s a gay submissive bottom. I don’t know if Nancy’s age is ever disclosed, but we get the feeling she’s barely 18 and having sexual relationships with a handful of men who are over 30. And to seemingly start a conversation about environmental racism and gentrification and quickly move it off the table is telling. I haven’t read Leonard’s novel or watched the 1969 film adaptation, and as bad as this version is, I can’t decide if I need to visit those two for more answers, or just avoid the story of Big Bounce all together now.
Keep or Purge?
PURGE! PURGE! This is my first purge. I really can’t wait to get rid of this film and never watch it again.