Like a cut-rate package tour that promises much but delivers little, THE BIG BOUNCE, sucks the joy right out of you while offering little glimpses of the paradise that is forever beyond your reach. Based on the Elmore Leonard novel of the same name, its filled with the robustly eccentric characters that he dreams up to populate his morally ambiguous tales. While the books, and the more successful adaptations of same, can lull us into dreamy sort of co-conspiratorial fugue state, this film only succeeds in putting us to sleep altogether.
As usual, its scam or be scammed in Leonard land, in this case the north shore of Oahu, and smack dab in the middle of it is Jack (Owen Wilson), a sweet guy with a penchant for petty crime and trying to do the right thing if the circumstances allow. That means no harm comes to our boy Jack. Hes just lost his latest legal job for hitting his boss with a metal pipe in order to stall construction on some sacred land by local developer Ray Ritchie (Gary Sinise). The gods of Hawaii seem to smile on him though and before you can say mahalo, which everyone does in this flick, the charges are dropped to stave off bad publicity and Jacks offered a job managing vacation bungalows for the judge (Morgan Freeman) that would have tried him had the case come to trial. Things are either looking up or too good to be true.
Enter Nancy (Sara Foster). Shes being kept by Ritchie, but is about as subtle as a tsunami in the way she struts her stuff in front of Jack trying to get his attention. Being a comely thing, she does, and being a devious thing, shes tempts Jack with more than her shapely form. Shes hatched a plan to steal $200,000 from Ritchie and get away with it. All she needs is Jack to shift the cash.
Wilson is, as has happened before, the best thing in a bad movie. What little fun there is in the film comes directly from his ability to nail Jacks absolute sincerity about being a less than upright human being. Jack suffers no illusions about himself, and that has set him free from the usual restraints of the social contract. You cant insult him, you cant shame him, and you cant appeal to his better nature. When he explains to his best pal that theirs is a genuine friendship because they each know that they cant count on each other, theres a peculiar logic to it that is refreshing for the trails it blazes.
The supporting cast is a muddle, starting with Foster. She makes Nancy a tedious sort of trouble, with no nuance to her evil intentions and no pizzazz to her personality. Sure, the story calls for her to be the type of gal who enjoys nude housebreaking and stealing cars, but theres not enough life in Foster to sell it. Sinese has little to do but snark a few bitchy lines and Freeman looks wise and collects a paycheck. As does Willie Nelson. Charlie Sheen, as the object of one of Nancys scams, strains hard for laughs as hes dangled and denied, but to no avail. Only Bebe Neuwirth, as the tippling Mrs. Ritchie, all pale skin and scary shoes, breaks the otherwise moribund atmosphere whenever Wilson leaves the screen.
Alas, the story, which makes little sense even when all the cards have been laid on the table, meanders along without doing much along the way except killing time until the next so-called twist appears out of nowhere. There is more thrill-packed excitement in the frequent shots of the languid Pacific trade winds ruffling the palm fronds and banana leaves.
It should be noted that THE BIG BOUNCE was filmed once before as a vehicle for then heartthrob Ryan ONeal and his then lady love, Leigh Taylor-Young. Now, one doesnt expect a remake to equal the original when said original was a classic. When the original was dreck and the remake is even worse, one can only shake ones head and wonder what anyone involved was thinking when the what not to do was there for all to note, study, and avoid. There is a special award for this kind of idiocy, and its called the Razzie.