The Big Bounce

(2004)  1/2 Pg-13
85 min. Warner Brothers. Director: George Armitage. Cast: Owen Wilson, Morgan Freeman, Gary Sinise, Sara Foster, Charlie Sheen.

Where did The Big Bounce go wrong? Hmmm, let's see. It's based on the 1969 novel Big Bounce by the always-spicy Elmore Leonard. It's directed by George Armitage (Miami Blues, Grosse Pointe Blank). It stars Owen Wilson and Morgan Freeman. It has a screenplay by Estevan Gutierrez. It--wait a minute. Estevan "Gothika" Gutierrez? Never mind.

This story has already been a famously bad movie called The Big Bounce (the 1969 version starred Ryan O'Neal), but the statute of limitations is up on that dust-gatherer. Leonard's novel took place in the Detroit area, but Gutierrez moves the action to the North Shore of Hawaii's Oahu. The net effect of this switch is to make the audience feel as if it is eavesdropping on the actors' summer vacation.

Wilson plays drifting ne'er-do-well Jack Ryan, who at the picture's outset forefeits a construction gig by smacking his foreman Lou (Vinnie Jones) upside the head with an aluminum baseball bat. This tickles the fancy of judge Walter Crewes (Freeman), who gives Ryan enough rope to get into plenty of trouble with the sinister real estate developer Walter despises, Ray Ritchie (Gary Sinise). Ray's flunky Bob Jr. (Charlie Sheen) also threatens Jack, as does everyone's girlfriend Nancy Hayes (Sara Foster), a potential femme fatale for horny layabout Jack.

This is one of Leonard's mustier plots, but it's nothing some sharp characterization and high energy couldn't fix. Unfortunately, every scene in this interminably slow, pointless rehash is listless, witless, and airless. It's a crime comedy on Valium, with peek-a-boo skin teasing and lots of clips of surfers and shorelines. Armitage fails to build any more tension than he does laughs, and the unclear motivations of the shifty characters remain elusive. The stars are at sea without a paddle, but with their fancies no doubt drifting to their off-hours entertainment, they hardly seem to care.

Armitage brings on Willie Nelson and Harry Dean Stanton for a few minutes, which is a passing novelty, but adding the unofficial Elmore Leonard theme song (the Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing") to the soundtrack only serves to remind us of prime Hollywood Leonard: Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight and ABC's current series Karen Sisco. One character remarks of a dingy motel, "It's like where dreams go to die," summing up this dismal cinematic mistake.

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