The Big Bounce

2004, Movie, PG-13, 107 mins


It should have been a marriage made in pulp heaven: Director George Armitage (MIAMI BLUES, GROSSE POINTE BLANK), graduated cum laude from Roger Corman's New World academy of low-budget action, plus a screenplay adapted from a great early novel by Elmore Leonard, one of the best hard-boiled crime writers working today. How could you lose? Easy: Start by shifting the locale from Leonard's gritty Detroit-area turf to the sparkling beaches of Oahu, then drain away everything that makes his complex anti-hero, Jack Ryan, interesting — starting with character — and cast Owen Wilson in the part. Screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez's (GOTHIKA) version of the story finds small-time con man and nervy B&E artist Ryan working on a construction site where, amid raucous protest, real-estate fat-cat Ray Ritchie (Gary Sinise) is about to desecrate ancestral Hawaiian land with a brand new mega-hotel. Trouble starts when Ryan tussles with Ritchie's crew foreman, Lou Harris (Vinnie Jones), and ends when Ryan cracks Harris's jaw with a baseball bat. Ryan is arrested by the local cops and bailed out by Ritchie's flunky, Bob Jr. (Charlie Sheen), who tells him to beat it back to the mainland, tout de suite. Ryan sticks around because of local district judge Walter Crewes (Morgan Freeman), who likes Ryan's spunk and hires him as a handyman at his little North Shore surf camp, and Ritchie's mistress, Nancy Hayes (Sara Foster). In addition to offering a few cheap thrills, Nancy makes Ryan a lucrative job offer: Stealing the $200,000 Ritchie's got stashed away in his hunting lodge. Of course, there are complications: Ritchie's booze-woozy wife (a nice, dizzy turn by Bebe Neuwirth); the ex-coworker (Gregory Sporleder) Ryan stiffed on a B&E job; a royally pissed-off Harris, who now wears a neck brace; and, predictably, Nancy, a femme fatale playing so many ends against the middle the plot ties itself into a Gordian knot. Gutierrez keeps some of Leonard's tart dialogue, but not enough to hide the fact that the story has no momentum — those gratuitous shots of pro-sufers shooting curls don't compensate — and there's zero chemistry between the whiny Wilson and Foster, who has yet to make the transition from model to actress. The leading man/leading lady crackle and pop Armitage usually handles so well (think Alec Baldwin and Jennifer Jason Leigh in MIAMI BLUES, or John Cusack and Minnie Driver in GROSSE POINTE BLANK) fizzles and plops, taking the film down with it. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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