[Screen It]

(2004) (Owen Wilson, Morgan Freeman) (PG-13)

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Comedy: A likable, small-time criminal tries to stay ahead of the game when he gets involved with a number of people who may or may not be participating in a crime-based con.
Jack Ryan (OWEN WILSON) is a small-time criminal whose bad luck and bad choices have led him to Hawaii in search of greener pastures. Yet, it's not long before he gets into trouble again at a construction site where he works for shady real estate developer Ray Ritchie (GARY SINISE). As the locals protest the razing of land, Jack cracks Ray's foreman, Lou Harris (VINNIE JONES), on the head with a baseball bat.

Jack is eventually let out of jail and is hired by District Judge Walter Crewes (MORGAN FREEMAN) who has him work as a handyman at the coastal motel he runs, but oddly seems just as interested in Jack's criminal background.

Another person seemingly interested in him is Nancy Hayes (SARA FOSTER), a young woman who's having an affair with Ray. While he's away with his wife, Alison (BEBE NEUWIRTH), Nancy wants Jack to help her rob him of the $200,000 he reportedly has lying around his hunting lodge. Their sudden and close time spent together doesn't sit well with Bob Rogers, Jr. (CHARLIE SHEEN), Ray's married right-hand man who's smitten with Nancy and has been ordered to get Jack off the island.

Falling deeper for Nancy, Jack starts to scope out and plan the robbery, all while dealing with the notion that there may be more to her, the crime and the rest of the players than it initially appears.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
After watching a movie that's awful, derails somewhere along the way, or simply feels flat from start to finish, I often ponder where things went wrong. It could always be the fault of the source material - a book, play or TV show - but you'd think if that were the case, no one would be foolish enough to try to adapt it.

Then again, the first screenplay could be at fault, but likewise you'd think that would leave enough of a bad taste in the mouths of the cast and/or crew that they'd pass. Those who fall into those two categories are obviously the easiest marks to be the scapegoats. Yet, sometimes it's someone higher up the food chain who sticks his or her meaty fingers into the goods and ruins them.

Not being remotely knowledgeable about the filmmaking process during "The Big Bounce," or its source material and only having just looked up info on the first filmed adaptation of it, I can't pinpoint exactly who or what's to blame. I can say, though, that this crime caper is about as uneventful, boring and flat as they come.

Based on acclaimed novelist Elmore Leonard's 1969 novel of the same name, the film is a far cry from other adaptations of his work such as "Jackie Brown," "Out of Sight" and "Get Shorty." I don't know if that's because such "con" movies have been run into the ground as of late - thus building up our tolerance for the requisite twists, turns and double-crosses - or simply mundane filmmaking, but this effort never gets out of first gear.

As helmed by George Armitage ("Grosse Pointe Blank," "Miami Blues") who works from the screenplay adaptation by Sebastian Gutierrez ("Gothika," "Judas Kiss"), the picture is filled with all sorts of characters who are supposed to be interesting, funny and dubious in their final intentions.

With its large and impressive cast, it kept reminding me of another "big" movie, this time Barry Sonnenfeld's "Big Trouble." Unlike that halfway successful and mildly entertaining effort, this one feels forced rather than fun, and in the end simply doesn't work that well.

Considering the adaptations of Leonard's other works, I'm surprised that the basic plot here isn't better or at least more complex. In short, Owen Wilson ("I Spy," "The Royal Tenenbaums") - playing the same sort of nonchalant, self-deprecating surfer dude he often does - gets recruited to pull off a crime only then to have to deal with the obligatory changes in character direction.

The bait comes in the form of the alluring Sara Foster (making her debut) who looks great in what little clothing was leftover in the costume budget for her (and will remind some of a young Bridget Fonda).

That's significant since her character is poorly constructed and written, and isn't convincing in the slightest (except for filling out a bikini quite nicely - and that seems to be the only prerequisite she needed to fulfill).

The well-known cast of Morgan Freeman ("Bruce Almighty," "Dreamcatcher"), Charlie Sheen ("Wall Street," "Platoon"), Gary Sinise ("The Human Stain," "Impostor"), Bebe Neuwirth ("Le Divorce," "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days") and others eventually shows up, supposedly to complicate matters for our protagonist. Without the bods or bikinis afforded Foster, however, they can't do anything remotely interesting with their characters.

By default, we know that some or all of them will ultimately turn the screw on Wilson's character, but there's a big related problem. And that is that none of it's remotely clever, funny or interesting.

When the big "twist" finally occurred, all I could muster was "That's it?" Throw in the fact that we don't care or really have any reason to like any of the characters and you have the makings of a cinematic misfire.

The fact that well-known or at least recognizable talent such as Harry Dean Stanton ("Alien," "Pretty in Pink") and singer Willie Nelson appear in parts that don't seem complete leaves the impression that perhaps too many cooks were in the kitchen trying to make this more appetizing.

Coupled with some bad reviews for the first film - indicating that perhaps Leonard had yet to hit his stride creating his signature crime fiction - it's not surprising that this effort just doesn't work. Neither big nor bouncy, the light, fluffy and instantly forgettable "The Big Bounce" rates as just a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed January 26, 2004 / Posted January 30, 2004

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