Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:33 - Released 4/5/02

A successful ensemble film requires a number of key elements, such as a director who can get all the players to interact with a sense of consistency, a cast of actors who are capable of such cooperation without letting egos get in the way of the greater good, and a script with just enough complexity to be interesting without becoming bogged down in minutiae. This description almost perfectly fits Barry Sonenfeld's Big Trouble, a wacky farce with a hilariously complex plot and a varied and surprisingly diverse cast list. Sonnenfeld, the cinematographer-turned-director who helmed Get Shorty and Men In Black, brilliantly manages a veritable laundry list of prominent and talented actors, and the result is a highly enjoyable romp that is as multi-faceted as it is tightly constructed (after all, it's only an hour and half long).

Based on the novel by well-known Miami humorist Dave Barry, Big Trouble is adapted for the screen by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone. Describing the story would be not only difficult but also a disservice to both the writers and potential audience members, since the success of some elements depends greatly on their surprise factor. But to give an inkling of this very complex scenario, the action begins when a homeless Fritos-lover named Puggy (Jason Lee) witnesses a pair of attempted shootings at the upper-middle-class home of balding, conceited letch Arthur Herk (Stanley Tucci) and his bored and frustrated wife Anna (Rene Russo), and their teenage daughter Jenny (Zooey Deschanel). One of these shootings is a hired hit intended for Arthur by two professional assassins (Dennis Farina, Jack Kehler), and the other is a playful prank with a squirt gun against Jenny by school friend Matt Arnold (Ben Foster).

Neither of the shootings hit their marks, but their occurrence sets in motion a bizarre chain of events that involve not only all of the above, but Matt's dad Eliot (Tim Allen), a former Miami newspaper columnist who has recently fallen on hard times, the Herks' Latina maid Nina (Sofía Vergara), two members of the Miami police force (Janeane Garofalo, Patrick Warburton), a pair of Russian weapons dealers (Daniel London, Lars Arentz-Hansen), two federal agents (Heavy D, Omar Epps), and two hopelessly stupid thugs (Tom Sizemore, Johnny Knoxville). Central to the plot is a large metal suitcase, which nearly all the characters either possess or hope to possess at some point in the story.

This movie plays like It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, or its recent ripoff, Rat Race, with a huge cast of characters (mostly paired in twos) related by one object. The difference is that instead of money, the object of their obsession is an extremely harmful thing—but only some of the characters know that. Its brisk pace and hilarious characterizations are underscored by the frenetic music of James Newton Howard, and there is no mistaking the ascerbic wit of author Dave Barry.

Big Trouble was originally scheduled for a fall 2001 release; you'll know why it was postponed when you see the airport sequence. Although it would undoubtedly have done better with its original release date (that is, if the events of September 11th had never happened), it's definitely worth a look while it lasts. ****

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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