Barry Sonnenfeld's "Big Trouble" (IMDb listing) is a return to form for the director who has recently let paychecks block his artistic credibility. Whether it was the amusing, but tepid "Men In Black" or the ego-drenched exercise in audience-guessing "Wild Wild West," Sonnenfeld has definitely forgotten his roots in recent years. Pictures like the first "Addams Family" or "Get Shorty" showcased a Sonnenfeld comfortable with large casts and able to put his visual stamp on even the most tranquil of scenes. "Big Trouble" puts Sonnenfeld back on the map with a wonderfully loopy comedy that careens like a stack of falling dominoes.
There is no easy way to explain the story (based on a book from Dave Barry) for "Big Trouble," but it involves a former newspaper columnist (Tim Allen), his son (Ben Foster) and friend (DJ Qualls), a corrupt businessman (Stanley Tucci), his wife (Rene Russo) and daughter (the wonderful Zooey Deschanel), two police officers (Patrick Warburton and Janeane Garofalo), a hitman (Dennis Farina), a wandering spirit (Jason Lee), and two FBI agents (Omar Epps and Heavy D) out to stop two morons ("Jackass" himself, Johnny Knoxville and Tom Sizemore) from smuggling a nuclear bomb into a Miami airport and taking off to the Bahamas.
In working with a lower budget and larger cast, Sonnenfeld has to labor harder for the picture to work. He cannot rely on special effects or a Will Smith video to pull him through. The resourcefulness in storytelling and camera placement that have failed him recently have returned, as "Big Trouble" moves sharply and efficiently. It never gets bogged down in style or camera-hogs. The termination of the nuclear bomb is the goal, with the filmmakers and actors forced to play catch up. There is no time for lavishness in story or comedy. "Big Trouble" is much too frenetic a picture to sit idle for that.
In returning to his beloved Miami, Sonnenfeld also gets extra mileage out of some rare digs at the golden city of sin. Too many times Miami is portrayed as the center of the world, but in "Big Trouble," Miami is reduced to being the armpit of the sunshine state. How delightful.
The finest concept in "Big Trouble" is that the ensemble cast of all-stars are not the focus of the picture, but the bomb is. Sonnenfeld keeps all the actors up in the air, taking very specific moments to bring them down and let them do their thing. This way the film stays fresh, and for 85 minutes, the movie can remain an easygoing breeze instead of a bottom-heavy ego trip of a comedy that audiences have come to expect from Sonnenfeld.
It's a huge cast of comic heavyweights, yet the best moments are provided by Dennis Farina as a suffering hitman who just loathes Miami, and Patrick Warburton and Janeane Garofalo as two cops who try to fend off the sexual tension between them while hurtling head-first into the thick of the plot. Regardless, the main character of the story is Tim Allen, and as Tim Allen performances go, he really doesn't clutter the film with his halfhearted brand of humor. Staying as more of a straight man to the madness, Allen wisely remains in the background and lets the lunacy happen all around him. Rene Russo also makes the same decision, as she doesn't make her usual impression. Though she looks like a million bucks in her stereotypical Florida wardrobe (loads of pinks and Capri pants), Russo stays pretty much quiet throughout the run of the show.
As "Big Trouble" zigs and zags through the story, I felt an overwhelming happiness that Barry Sonnenfeld has finally found his muse again. No other director could handle the zany antics of something like "Big Trouble" quite the way Sonnenfeld can. It's just terrific that Sonnenfeld is back to making simpler movies...oh wait. His next film is "Men In Black 2." Well, enjoy the fluidity of "Big Trouble" while you can because it looks like this is the last time you'll see a decent Sonnenfeld film for a long time.
Filmfodder Grade: B+