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[whitespace] 'Big Trouble'
Photograph by Robert Zuckerman

No Princes Here: Even Stanley Tucci can't turn a toad like 'Big Trouble' into a decent comedy.

The Big Bungle

The painful comedy 'Big Trouble' wasn't delayed nearly long enough

By Richard von Busack

MAYBE WE'VE all been too hard on Osama bin Laden. After all, his attack on New York delayed the release of the movie Big Trouble by seven months. If you survive to the end of this noxious comedy, you can see why it was postponed: a wacky bomb-on-a-hijacked-plane sequence was considered a bit thick in the wake of Sept. 11.

Despite increased security, this bomb of a film will be on the airplanes soon enough. Those who dislike me can imagine me in a turbulence-wracked jet, as I was recently, desperately switching channels between Zoolander and Corky Romano. No, they were not movies the critics dog-piled on, hurting their chances; no, they weren't neglected films that never found their audience; no, they weren't sabotaged by studios that didn't market them right. In an all-too-artificial world, these two movies are the real thing: genuine, 100 percent wattled butterball turkeys. And Big Trouble deserves to roost alongside them.

Barry Sonnenfeld's film--his worst--is based on humorist Dave Barry's novel, an exercise in the style of his fellow Miami Herald writer Carl Hiassen. It's a kind of bungled heist movie, with various small-time criminals suddenly in possession of a Russian surplus warhead. The bomb, hidden in a metal trunk, is supposed to be like the "what's-it" in Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly. Here, in reduced and lesser form, we get Hiassen's usual cast of Florida criminals: a vengeful critter (a toad), a pair of out-of-town hit men (one is Dennis Farina, reprising his irked traveler bit from Snatch) and various bungling police and security guards (Patrick Warburton, of the late, lamented show The Tick, among them).

Jason Lee plays "Puggy," a nature boy who lives in the trees. Because of his long hair and beard, the simple Latino maid, Nina (Univision TV star Sofia Vergara), mistakes him for Jesus. That is the film's height of humor, except for her earlier shocked reactions to a shrimp-job performed by her boss, a toe-sucking Stanley Tucci; Tucci's enthusiasm in this scene overcomes the film's consistently busted slapstick. The narrator is Tim Allen, playing an ex-ad man heckled by his teenage son, pissed that his father bought a Geo Metro, "a loser car." My Geo is much more reliable than this tired vehicle, which once again (as in Showtime) has Rene Russo wandering around looking beautiful and waiting for something to do--all she gets is a coarsely staged love scene with Allen, a particularly small-screen kind of actor.

The scriptwriters Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone gifted us with Life with Eddie Murphy, and before that the memorable Destiny Turns on the Radio. Their upcoming script is titled Intolerable Cruelty. They should call it Intolerable Cruelty, Part II.

Big Trouble (R; 85 min.), directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, written by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone, based on the novel by Dave Barry, photographed by Greg Gardiner and starring Tim Allen, Rene Russo and Stanley Tucci, opens Friday at selected theaters.

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From the April 4-10, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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