Like many of the characters in its story, the new comedy from "Men in Black" director Barry Sonnenfeld, "Big Trouble", was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Originally scheduled for release in September, "Big Trouble" was pulled by Touchstone Pictures at the last minute in the aftermath of September 11th, because of two plot points that would not have gone over well with movie audiences. The first involved two criminals who bribe and scam their way through airport security, with the second being a ticking bomb on a passenger plane. Now, more than six months later, "Big Trouble" finally sees the light of day in a moviegoing environment that seems much more receptive to such subject matter (such as with the recent release of Arnold Schwarzenneger's "Collateral Damage", another victim of bad timing). And despite the aforementioned plot points that almost seem incredulous in today's environment of heightened airport security, "Big Trouble" still manages to be a fun (not to mention funny) ensemble piece about stupid people connected by bizarre circumstances in the vein of Guy Ritchie's "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch", "Two Days in the Valley", and even "Pulp Fiction".
At the center of all the madness in "Big Trouble" is a metal suitcase containing a nuclear bomb. After arriving from the former Soviet Union, the bomb is sold by Russian arms dealers Leonid (Lars Arentz-Hansen of "The Beach") and Ivan (Daniel London of "Patch Adams") to narcissistic corporate embezzler Arthur Herk (Stanley Tucci of "America's Sweethearts"), who wants to get back at his bosses for sending two hit men (Dennis Farina of "Out of Sight" and Jack Kehler of "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me") after him. Unfortunately, the bomb is quickly stolen by two 'dumb and dumber' hoods, Snake (Tom Sizemore of "Black Hawk Down") and Eddie (Johnny Knoxville of "Coyote Ugly"), who then hightail it to the Bahamas, with Arthur's stepdaughter Jenny (Zooey Deschanel of "Almost Famous") and a Fritos-loving homeless man named Puggy (Jason Lee of "Vanilla Sky") as hostages.
Meanwhile, the FBI has dispatched Agents Pat Greer (Omar Epps of "Brother") and Alan Seitz (Heavy D of "The Cider House Rules") to retrieve the nuclear device. However, the real hero ends up being Eliot Arnold (Tim Allen of "Galaxy Quest"), a former Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist (modeled after Dave Barry, who wrote the book the movie is based on) with a lousy advertising business, back-breaking alimony payments, a son (Ben Foster) who can't stand him, and a Geo. Also along for the ride are two of Miami's finest (Janeane Garofalo of "The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle" and Patrick Warburton of "The Dish"), Arthur's Martha Stewart-obsessed wife Anna (Rene Russo of "The Thomas Crown Affair"), and Arthur's live-in domestic help, Nina (Sofia Vergara).
Many of the gags found in "Big Trouble" are off-the-wall, and a few are even stupid, but thankfully, they never sink to the level of "Scary Movie" or "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back". Like the best of the Zucker Brothers ("Airplane", "The Naked Gun") or the recent "Zoolander", the gags in "Big Trouble" manage to find the absurd in the everyday, and relishes in the accomplishments of the terminally stupid and how they make life difficult for everybody else. And with a running time just under one-and-a-half hours, "Big Trouble" is just about the right length to move at a steady clip without outwearing its welcome.
Another big plus for "Big Trouble" is the ensemble of colorful characters and the actors who play them. Allen is sympathetic as the reluctant hero desperately in need of a confidence boost, while Sizemore and Knoxville are hilarious as two-bit criminals who never think more than thirty seconds ahead (one great gag has them being unable to figure out the difference between 'departures' and 'arrivals' at the airport). Farina offers more of the great "This is Miami? They can keep it!" attitude that he displayed in "Snatch", while Tucci goes over-the-top in his portrayal of the overly wired Arthur Herk. The only disappointment is Russo, whose one-note character is given very little to do other than being the obligatory love interest.
To be honest, I had low expectations going into the theater. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that "Big Trouble" is the sort of 'stupid-funny' guilty pleasure that makes for a great evening out. Not all of the gags work (particularly the airport security sequences), and some of them are as stupid as the characters involved, but with the film's brisk pacing and absurd black comedy sensibility, it is not difficult for "Big Trouble" to hold your attention and make it worth the while.