At the intersection of 17 randomly selected story lines, you’ll find a suitcase. Inside that suitcase rests a nuclear bomb. Based on a novel by humorist and editorialist Dave Barry, Big Trouble works like a giant funnel, channeling radically disparate elements into one final blow-up. Literally.
Eliot Arnold used to write humorous editorials (sound familiar?) for the Miami Herald. But since he got inexplicably fired after putting his foot through his boss’s computer screen, he’s been forced to take a job as an ad man. Eliot’s son, Matt, thinks his dad is a loser. Largely because he was stupid enough to buy a Geo. Matt is clearly not aware that he and his dad are about to meet some pretty interesting people in that Geo.
There are three sets of "bad guys" plus an embezzling white collar crook in Big Trouble. You need at least that many to justify the movie’s title. There’s a pair of sharp-shooting assassins for hire. There are a couple of Russian gun runners (they’re the ones who introduce the nuclear warhead). And there are two Home Alone-style bumblers with more dirt on their shirts than brains in their heads. Arthur Herk is the white collar guy. The assassins have been hired to kill him. His wife, Anna, turns out to be Eliot’s love interest, while his daughter, Jenny, gets sweet with Matt. Did I mention the homeless guy named Puggy? He lives in a tree and kicks off the film by telling the Bible story about Noah and the ark. Don’t even ask about the goats.
It’s silly stuff to be sure, but let there be no mistake about it; the entire southeastern seaboard is at stake. So Eliot and Matt better get with the program before the big bomb goes boom.
positive elements: Eliot laments the lack of respect his son has for him (sadly, he’s clueless about how remedy the situation). Father and son reconcile in the end, but as Eliot puts it, he has to "outrun a plane and subdue a few convicts with a nuclear weapon" to make that happen.
spiritual content: Puggy talks about Noah and asserts that the moral of that Old Testament story is that "life is hard, so you’d better find someone who’ll be your partner." A maid hits her boss over the head with a crucifix.
sexual content: A multitude of word-plays are designed to conjure sexual images in moviegoers’ minds. Those images range from three-way sex to oral sex to manual stimulation. Many of the innuendoes are tossed back and forth between the movie’s teenagers. A dog is overly fond of nuzzling people’s crotches. After streaking through an airport, a police officer leaves the force to pursue a career as a male stripper (he’s shown onstage wearing only a thong). Several women are shown wearing either bikinis or skimpy dresses. One man exhibits a sexual foot fetish and is shown feverishly licking a woman’s toes—against her wishes.
violent content: Puggy serves as a punching bag on a few occasions. He’s hit, kicked, locked in a trunk and forced to participate in a violent burglary. More than once, people are taken hostage at gunpoint. Shots are fired every time there’s a major altercation (no one is killed). An FBI agent shoots a suspect in the foot and tosses a man out of his truck. A bartender (who’s not really a bartender) whacks a guy in the back with a baseball bat.
crude or profane language: S-words—25 or so—litter the script. Other well-exercised crudities include both mild profanity and crude references to sexual organs. The Lord’s name is abused repeatedly.
drug and alcohol content: A security officer carries a flask of hard liquor and drinks while on the job. But the most notable drug-related scene in the film has to do with tobacco. And it’s far from flattering for those who enjoy lighting up. While dining out, one of the hit men becomes perturbed with a table full of men who are smoking cigars. He approaches them and politely asks them to stop smoking. He’s rebuffed. After explaining that their filthy habit is making his $27 steak taste like an ashtray, he asks them again to refrain. Then he breaks one of the offending gentlemen’s fingers. The others hastily snub out their cigars in their wine glasses.
other negative elements: Police officers and security guards are roundly mocked (but then, so is everyone else in the film). The devastation of divorce and remarriage is treated as if it were equivalent to a high school dating breakup. Upon hearing that only female mosquitoes suck blood, one of the hit men quips that that "sounds like my ex-wife." Matt and his dad blithely exchange harsh putdowns.
conclusion: Almost a screwball comedy, not quite Men in Black, Big Trouble offers more than a couple of scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny. But they’re outnumbered by the ones that are squirm-in-your-seat awkward. Awkward for a number of reasons. Sexual humor. Violence. Vulgarity. And because of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The climactic sequence onscreen has the bungling bad men ushering a nuclear bomb through airport security (which is staffed by idiots) and loading it onto a plane bound for the Bahamas. It’s all far too farcical to be taken seriously on any level, but it still makes you uncomfortable and a little sick at heart considering what we’ve all been through in the last year. Everyone will react to such comedic violence differently, and if that had been the only thing wrong with the film, I’d have a hard time putting the kibosh on it. But it’s far from an isolated element. Dave Barry can crank out some pretty hilarious stuff. Barry Sonnenfeld is a more than capable director. So it’s disappointing that in Big Trouble, all the crafty, clever, genuinely funny stuff gets hidden behind the off-color jokes and crude gags.