The Big Bounce (PG-13)
Imagine the rambling narrative of a barstool philosopher. You know, the kind in which the digressions delight but whose ultimate point stays as muddied as any pint of Guinness. Imagine such a yarn set in Hawaii with a few impossibly beautiful stars, and you have George Armitage's The Big Bounce, an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel that was previously filmed in 1969 with Ryan O'Neal.
In the current version, Owen Wilson stars as Jack Ryan, a local crook with a heart of gold who runs afoul of his real-estate magnate boss (Gary Sinise) when he sides with native protesters at the site of Sinise's new hotel. Ryan is the affable, easygoing thief whose criminality is a vaguely subversive strike at the bourgeoisie as well as a veritable trade requiring courage, cunning and a decidedly sexy confidence. Of course, Ryan is no menace to society because he's ripping off unfeeling capitalists and will use the booty only for benign pleasure. And being handsome, well spoken and white never hurt anyone in the criminal justice system either.
So it's no surprise when Jack crosses the path of Nancy (Sara Foster), the island's longtime enfant terrible who doubles as Sinise's mistress. Whatever your male-female fancy is, The Big Bounce offers no shortage of golden flesh, though it certainly privileges Ms. Foster's, whose every outfit serves to advertise her availability for the next cover of Maxim. For her part, Foster has the hots for criminals and the good life through other people's assets. And she's not at all shy about exploiting her own to get what she wants.
As the film begins, Jack finds his way under the supervision of local judge Walter Majestyk, played with typical avuncular charm by Morgan Freeman. Hired by Majestyk as the handyman for his vacation cottages, Jack juggles successive pots: partnering in Foster's intricate scam to rip off $200,000 of blood money from Sinise, managing the passive aggressive demands of a grating friend, and all the while campaigning to bed Foster.
Armitage's camera constantly careens from the impeccably blue ocean to the beachfront bungalows. When in doubt, Armitage cuts to surfers doing tube rides. This is Hawaii in all its mossy mountain and white beach majesty, and the whole package creates a great incentive to break farther west and think crime -- like a tourism spot for the criminally minded.
The Big Bounce offers a few notable cameos, including Willie Nelson and Harry Dean Stanton as Freeman's gaggle of domino-playing retirees. In addition, the "still-chunky-after all these years" Charlie Sheen shows up as Sinise's hapless lackey. While it's always fun to see which star surfaces next, there's a perpetual teasing for the film to really kick off. Wilson's thinking man's surfer dude has us imagining that just around the corner there will be uproarious comedy or possibly even traces of the profound. No such luck.
In addition, setting a film around a big heist induces expectations for thrilling heist scenes. Instead of madcap derring-do, all we get is a drunk's gunshot and a pathetic attempt at romantic reconciliation between the two leads.
What we realize is that the heist Jack plans with Foster is a double cross. Unfortunately, the plot machinations come before the interpersonal consequences have amounted to anything more than surface. Let's just say that the Brady family's two-part Hawaii adventure packed a much more potent punch.
That said, in the dead of winter, this tropical surface isn't all that unpleasant, and Wilson manages to pull off some of Leonard's smart-ass dialogue as well as can be expected. Ultimately, though, The Big Bounce sets up for what it never delivers and, as such, doesn't bounce as much as it smacks down with a forgettable thud.
-- John Dicker
Tinseltown, Cinemark 16