Barry Sonnenfeld’s Big Trouble is an underappreciated comedy gem that does for Miami what Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty does for Hollywood. Tim Allen leads a tremendous ensemble cast that keeps the plot moving and the jokes flying.
The Production: 4/5
When Big Trouble went into production in 2000, it seemed like a sure bet for Touchstone Pictures. Director Barry Sonnenfeld was coming off a tremendous run of box office success that included hits like The Addams Family, Get Shorty and Men In Black. Tim Allen was a big star following success on both the big and small screens with Home Improvement, Toy Story, The Santa Clause and Galaxy Quest. Supporting roles were filled with reliable talents like Rene Russo, Stanley Tucci, Tom Sizemore, Dennis Farina, Janeane Garofalo, Patrick Warburton, Omar Epps and Jason Lee, and promising newcomers like Ben Foster, Zooey Deschanel and Sofia Vergara. In an unfortunate and unforeseeable example of bad timing, the film was set for release on September 21, 2001. After the events of September 11, the idea of releasing a comedy that featured bad guys smuggling a nuclear weapon through inept airport security was untenable, and the film’s release was pushed back to Spring 2002. When it finally did come out, it was poorly promoted and even more poorly attended, and quickly disappeared. What should have been a hit was instead relegated to historical footnote.
While Big Trouble was not the success it should have been, and while it has not become a beloved cult classic over the years as some other box office flops have, it’s a film that has aged better than expected. The story, based on Dave Barry’s novel, is filled with zany characters finding themselves in ever more ridiculous situations that are more or less timeless, with some subplots coming across as strangely topical today. At its core, the film is the story of Eliot Arnold (Tim Allen), a single father who has lost his wife, job and son’s (Ben Foster) respect. When his son gets in trouble for a high school prank gone wrong, Eliot finds himself attracted to Anna, the mother (Rene Russo) of Jenny (Zooey Deschanel), one of the students also caught up in the prank. While reprimanding the kids, they narrowly escape an inept attempt at a hit on Anna’s husband Arthur (Stanley Tucci), a successful and obnoxious white collar criminal who’s in some trouble for embezzling from his bosses. As one of the film’s chief joys is seeing just how wildly out of control the whole scenario gets, to say any more would ruin the fun. But despite the craziness of the plot, the story has been well structured so that each twist has been properly set up. Despite its madcap exterior, this is actually an intelligent comedy that earns its laughs.
Sonnenfeld uses many of the same stylistic choices that he employed to great effect in Get Shorty, and they serve him well here, making this film a spiritual, if not literal, successor. (It’s actually a much better film than Get Shorty’s official sequel is.) As a former cinematographer, Sonnenfeld has a good eye for composition and framing, and is also able to use the colorful Miami locations to great effect. The film’s editor, Steven Weisberg, does a fantastic job of juggling the film’s many characters while keeping up the pace. At 85 minutes, the film zips by but never feels rushed. Each role has been perfectly cast so that just a look and a line of dialogue is enough to show who each character is. Despite the film’s complicated setup, it never feels exposition-heavy.
Big Trouble is a much funnier comedy and much better movie than its reputation would suggest.
3D Rating: NA
Big Trouble is presented in its original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1, from a master provided by Disney. (The film was originally released by their Touchstone subsidiary.) While this is clearly not a new transfer, it is not without merit. Color is generally good, and the film’s many nighttime and low light scenes play well. While the image is less detailed and a touch less sharp than a brand new transfer might be, it’s generally good enough. Unfortunately, the transfer is not always steady, with some shakiness in the film’s opening scenes that eventually improves but never completely leaves. It is worth noting that this was much more apparent on a 100” projection screen than it was on a 55” television; viewers watching on small and medium sized displays may not notice it at all. While it would have been nice if Disney had revisited the transfer, what’s here is good enough.
The disc provides two lossless options, both in DTS HD-MA: a 5.1 surround track, and a 2.0 stereo track. Both sound perfectly clean and clear, with well-recorded dialogue that’s always easy to discern. James Newton Howard’s lively score makes good use of the front soundstage, and the film’s more action-oriented sequences have some good separation. The 5.1 track has more separation and is the preferred choice, but both tracks are satisfactory.
Special Features: 2/5
Audio Commentary by Director Barry Sonnenfeld – Sonnenfeld begins with some good insight but before long is narrating the film, with occasional silent gaps.
Theatrical Trailer (2:03, SD) – The film’s original theatrical trailer showcases the cast but does a poor job of hinting at the film’s tone.
Big Trouble is an underrated comedy gem that’s ripe for rediscovery on Blu-ray. The film’s zany plot and sense of humor still work, the direction is stylish, and the ensemble cast is an impressive collection of fine actors. While the transfer provided by Disney is clearly older, it’s good enough to allow the film’s charms to shine through. As a fan since its original theatrical release, I am appreciative that Kino Lorber has brought Big Trouble to Blu-ray.
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