Thursday, January 29, 2004
was Elmore Leonard’s 1969 initial venture into the crime fiction style that would remain his trademark. His witty and cynical dialogue resonates here on-screen as coming from a writer with equal parts skill and inspiration. Director George Armitage (Grosse Point Blank) juggles Leonard’s criminally flawed characters on the island of Oahu with quick timing and choice observations of their individual idiosyncrasies.
Owen Wilson embodies Jack Ryan, Leonard’s iconic small-time thief, with a heart of something that glitters like gold but shouldn’t ever be confused with the precious stuff. Jack is nearly ejected from Oahu when he bashes his construction boss Lou (Vinnie Jones) with a baseball bat in self defense. The surprising face smack sets up a movie’s worth of wry jokes, fistfights, and eye candy of surfers on great waves and pretty girls in bikinis.
The glossy romance of Leonard’s atheist world is generated by Nancy (Sara Foster), the comely mistress to evil construction company owner Ray Ritchie (Gary Sinise). Jack’s bat incident frees him to accept a job offer from local judge Walter Crewes (Morgan Freeman) and puts him in proximity to the nearby Nancy. Crewes effortlessly manipulates Jack’s weakness for pretty women into a $200,000 scam involving Nancy, Ray’s alcoholic wife Alison (Bebe Neuwirth) and the cold hard cash.
The $200,000 cash pile at stake is just an excuse for Leonard’s misfits to get into bigger trouble. At the beginning of the story Jack gets out of jail and finds his harmonica has been stolen from his personal belongings. It’s a detail that will come up later as a defining possession that helps pin the tone of the movie at a conversational pitch. Leonard’s characters talk as well as Quentin Tarantino’s, but they’re not as proud of it and have less to prove.
Morgan Freeman’s Walter becomes Elmore Leonard’s thematic voice in the story, as when he talks about God as “an imaginary friend for adults.” Freeman gives his standard dazzling performance by tweaking his delivery in ways that catch you rolling his words around in your head after he’s spoken. Owen Wilson’s Jack is the quick-witted natural thief who needs to learn restraint, but is doomed to shed a lot more blood before that happens.
There is an obvious exotic atmosphere in Oahu’s North Shore that The Big Bounce uses to divide its rapid fire verbal delivery and stolen car chases. Bad-people-doing-bad-things-in-a-lovely-environment is a hook that The Big Bounce puts to cool use without giving away the meaning of its fluffy title. There are still plenty of shadows flashing around in this sunny noir.
The Big Bounce [3 stars]
Directed by George Armitage
Starring Morgan Freeman, Owen Wilson, Sara Foster, Gary Sinise