One of the most pleasant things about “Big Trouble,” which is a very pleasant movie, is that it has no exposition. We leap right into the action, and the narrator gets us up-to-speed as we go. The movie drives up next to us, screeches to a halt, pulls us inside, and says, “Get in the car. I’ll explain on the way.”
To the extent that anyone is really the protagonist in this ensemble comedy, it is Eliot Arnold (Tim Allen), a former Miami Herald columnist who is now divorced and running an unsuccessful ad agency. His teen-age son, Matt (Ben Foster), has no respect for his loser father, much less his loser father’s GEO Metro. (“How many clowns does it hold?” he asks the dealer during a test drive.)
As part of a high school game, Matt has to sneak up on classmate Jenny Herk (Zooey Deschanel) and soak her with a squirt gun. Jenny lives with her mom, Anna (Rene Russo), and her jerk stepfather Arthur (Stanley Tucci) — “one of the few Floridians who was not confused when he voted for Pat Buchanan,” we’re told, succinctly telling us everything we need to know about the guy. Arthur has enraged his employers by embezzling from them, and on the same night that Matt is approaching the house to surprise Jenny, two hitmen (Dennis Farina and Jack Kehler) are approaching it to kill Arthur.
But that’s not all. Two low-rent criminals (Tom Sizemore and Johnny Knoxville) are causing trouble at a local bar owned by Russians who are really illegal weapons dealers. Two FBI agents (Heavy D and Omar Epps) get involved, as do two police officers (Janeane Garofalo and Patrick Warburton), and a homeless man named Puggy (Jason Lee) is a witness to it all. Puggy lives in a treehouse outside the Herk home, by the way, and falls in love with Herk housekeeper Nina (Sofia Vergara).
Based on the novel by humor columnist Dave Barry (and adapted for the screen by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone), “Big Trouble” is one of those wiggy comedies where a lot of strangers are brought together by external forces, and where you can be sure a lot of animals will wind up involved. (This time it’s goats.) Unusual coincidences are amusing rather than tiring, because they’re integral to the plot. It’s not like the writer got lazy and used a coincidence as an escape; the whole thing is based on them. Accept it and enjoy, or kick against it and be bothered.
The dialogue is often snappy and quotable (Herk family mongrel Roger was the result of “generations of hasty, unplanned dog sex”), and the running jokes — Gators fans and Martha Stewart being two of them — add to the mirthfulness.
Director Barry Sonnenfeld is on familiar ground, as this film closely resembles his “Get Shorty” in terms of subject matter and attitude. The pace is quick, the movie is short, the jokes are fast and the timing is sharp. Everyone who deserves to lives happily ever after, and love is found in the most unlikely of places. A comedy this merry is almost life-affirming.
A- (1 hr., 24 min.; )
In 2012, I reconsidered this movie for my Re-Views column at Film.com.