The Big Bounce Review
Elmore Leonard has written some fantastic books, and a fair few have been adapted to the big screen – with Get Shorty and Out of Sight being rather notable recent efforts – but there are quite a lot that don’t do so well, despite the novels being just as catchy. It seems on paper the adaptations capture the spirit of the novels though, because they never seem to have much trouble finding a decent cast, but then maybe nobody wants to pass up the next Get Shorty.
Owen Wilson plays Jack Ryan (you’d have thought that name would surely have been changed) a small time crook who’s, for a change, not looking for the next big score. He seems happy enough doing the minimum, working on a construction site to fill the time between petty criminal activities – shouldn’t that work the other way round? – if he makes enough to keep a roof over his head swiping wallets he’s doing just fine. Not that sleeping under the stars would be such a terrible thing, as Ryan has reached the end of the line as far as the US is concerned – Hawaii. Most people seem pretty happy to do the bare minimum around here, why work when you can lay in the sun and ride the waves? There are a few, rare, hard working individuals though Ray Ritchie (Gary Sinise) is a man with money on his mind, he’s trying to build a beachside hotel that will keep him in sports cars and girls on the side for quite some time, but his construction is being marred by some unrest from the natives, as he wants to build on ground they consider sacred. After one of their protests ends up with Jack slugging the site foreman (Vinnie Jones) he ends up in jail, which is where he catches the eye of Walter (Morgan Freeman), who is not only the island’s Judge, but also the owner of a small resort that would have it’s business severely effected by the new multi-million dollar construction.
Then things really start getting complicated for Jack, he’s given a job at Walter’s resort, he starts developing a thing for Ray’s girl (Sara Foster) – who may also be playing around with Frank’s right hand man, Bob Jr. (Charlie Sheen) – along with trying to duck a friend and ex partner in crime who is looking to Jack to solve all his money problems. Not to mention being drawn into a score way out of his league, about $199,800 out of his league in fact, it’s a tough balancing act and surely there isn’t a way he can get away with the girl, the money and his life?
Those familiar with the book may have noticed a slight change in all of that, as The Big Bounce was originally set in Detroit, I wonder who decided that a few months shooting in Hawaii would be preferable? It does however make Owen Wilson’s casting far more apt, he’s been pulling of the pseudo-stoned mock surfer routine for years, it’s about time we got so see him getting wet, Hawaii is certainly the kind of place you can imagine Jack running to, in fact it’s hard to picture him anywhere but here and California. Wilson sensibly doesn’t stray from his usual persona – in fact it’s hard to believe he can do anything else by now – and he makes Jack a believable chancer, getting by on his charm, largely because he doesn’t have much in the way of wits to rely on. Though somewhat unfortunately the same can be said for The Big Bounce’s script, as the early witty dialogue recedes as the film cruises along, leaving only the charisma of the leads to keep it going. This comes effortlessly to Wilson, but it’s somewhat surprising to see Morgan Freeman doing the same, usually regarded as a man who brings gravitas to a role it’s good to see him having a lot of fun for a change. Maybe it’s Wilson rubbing off on him, but having left behind the little fluffy clouds that obscured his face through Dreamcatcher (though I can’t blame him from wanting to be unrecognisable in that particular film) he’s smooth and witty, far from his usual furrowed brow and stern looks.
The problem with the film though, despite its fun performances, is its convoluted plot. You’re always sure there are twists ahead, there’s bound to be someone who isn’t what they seem, and Jack always seems to be being pulled in just the right direction. George Armitage (Grosse Pointe Blank) is determined to try and hide that fact though, happy to spend the majority of the running time as if nothing were going on, which means all the twisting and turning is restricted to quite a short space of time at the end of the film. With surprise after surprise and double cross after double cross being thrown at you it simply feels like you were never supposed to know, and whilst it is true this is pretty far from a whodunit thriller you do still feel somewhat cheated, or at least let down, by the closing events. It’s a film that only stays one step ahead of you because it hasn’t given you a map, you never have a chance of catching up.
That’s not to say The Big Bounce is a bad film, but it is somewhat disappointing as it could have been so much more. The first half an hour is genuinely witty, full of the dialogue that have made Leonard adaptations hits before, and the cast has just as much charisma as John Travolta in Get Shorty of George Clooney in Out of Sight, it just doesn’t have the plot to keep up with them. The book was previously adapted as far back as 1969, with Ryan O’Neil in the lead role. That version suffered by removing Leonard’s humour, it’s hard to see why anyone thought that would be a good idea, the twists of the plot aren’t strong enough to play the story straight, but it seems that even with the humour The Big Bounce has something missing. Much like Wilson himself the film will probably win you over with its charm, and it’s far from an unpleasant experience, but it isn’t a film you’re likely to come back to again and again, well, except to see Vinnie Jones get his first on screen thrashing, which is surely worth the price of a rental alone.
It’s another case of a perfectly fine DVD transfer from a major studio, really they have to be doing something almost incompetent these days to manage anything else. If anything I would have expected things to be a bit brighter, it didn’t quite shine the way I expect Hawaii to, but from a technical standpoint, it’s hard to find fault with.
It’s a comedy, and comedies are not known for tier mind blowing soundtracks as a rule, and that’s a rule The Big Bounce sticks to pretty well. It is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, but all you’re going to look forward to is some ambient effects on crowded beaches or from the lone approaching helicopter. Overall it’s a well done track, though towards the start of the film I did find the higher than normal levels of incidental music slightly jarring, but that seemed to pass pretty swiftly.
The Big Bounce: A Con in the Making
It’s another cheesy made for TV look behind the scenes, only managing about 12 minutes, but why make it any longer when you can squeeze all the punchlines into it. Much like watching the film on fast forward, but with the added bonus of Charlie Sheen talking about how wonderful everybody is (while we know what he’s really saying is, how the hell did I get cast in a movie with Morgan Freeman, I’m Charlie Sheen for god’s sake!) you’ll probably end up watching it, and then wondering why you bothered.
Surfing the Pipeline
This short featurette focuses on the shooting of the surfers in the movie, although the surfing isn’t really a part of the plot Wilson did have to learn how to surf for the movie – even though he only does so in one scene – and plenty of shots were used as simple scene transitions, so this is a nice, but brief look into the shooting techniques.
More surfing, though this time something that would be more at home on an extreme sports channel late at night, as we get to see a lot of the surfing footage shot for the movie accompanied by some dull background music.
It’s a standard theatrical trailer, only notable because it contains glimpses of a few scenes that not only didn’t make it into the movie, but also sadly haven’t made it onto this disc.
The Big Bounce, unfortunately, isn’t a film worth owning, it does make for a brisk, enjoyable 85 minutes, but even that is a bit of a stretch, and was on the verge of outstaying its welcome. The disc isn’t anything to get excited about either, with minimal and largely pointless extras, so this is one film that will stay in the realms of rental for most.