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The Big Bounce

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The Big Bounce

Cast:

In the Hawaii of The Big Bounce, the residents breathe air thick with corruption and languor. Everyone scams everyone else, then chills by the beach, and only the ability to maintain a sense of humor about it all separates the good guys from the bad guys. Adapted from an early crime novel by Elmore Leonard, The Big Bounce centers on a world uniquely suited to director George Armitage, who made Alec Baldwin into a casual psycho for Miami Blues and led John Cusack's hitman protagonist through a crisis of conscience in Grosse Pointe Blank. Here, in Owen Wilson, Armitage has found a leading man already well-attuned to lackadaisical comic understatement, but the richly realized setting seems to have carried over a little too heavily into a film that can't shake the slow-motion island rhythms long enough to develop a direction for its plot. Instead, it goes nowhere fast, then winds things up with a grin and a gunshot, but there's a lot of pleasure to be found in its overdeveloped sense of slack. Fired from a construction job that consisted mostly of waiting around and shooting the bull with native protesters, Wilson drifts into an ill-defined handyman job for judge and resort owner Morgan Freeman. It's not a bad life, and it beats the other option, robbing frat houses for wallets, but it doesn't take long for femme fatale Sara Foster to lure Wilson into a scam to relieve old construction boss Gary Sinise and henchman Charlie Sheen of a massive payoff to the local mob. Given such a colorful cast (which has backup support from Bebe Neuwirth, Willie Nelson, and Harry Dean Stanton), it feels almost perverse for Armitage to spend so much time simply following Wilson and Foster as they traipse around the island. Foster, a model turned TV hostess turned first-time actor, never quite warrants the attention, which doesn't help. Though she's as photogenic as they come, she remains a half-formed presence, getting only within spitting distance of the irresistible gamine threat the script requires. Wilson's got the chops for the attention, however, and when the general pleasantness of the atmosphere and the cleverness of the screenplay don't carry the movie, Wilson does–at least until a hurried, confounding finale that reveals its casualness as sloppiness. For all its low-key fun, The Big Bounce feels like a missed opportunity to add one more film to the list of great Leonard adaptations. But maybe, as in the film's low-stakes, leisure-loving world, only villains and churls expect too much.