Small payoff

Movie: Big Trouble

Our Rating: 0.00

Here's compelling evidence that Sept. 11 hysteria should never be allowed to abate. Were the U.S. of A. not currently renewing its love affair with benumbed denial, we might have been spared "Big Trouble," a wearisome stab at screwball comedy that was pulled from last fall's release slate due to a few scenes that mine the alleged humor of an armed nuclear bomb being brought on board a commercial aircraft. Who decided that bomb-smuggling jokes are fair game again? And who decided that any time is the right time for this bomb?

Its explosive inappropriateness aside, Big Trouble is just another crappy ensemble picture that wastes a lot of respectable talent (including Patrick Warburton, Stanley Tucci, Dennis Farina, Jason Lee and Andy Richter) on a story that's as solid and richly developed as a sneeze. Star Tim Allen is just about the only featured player living down to his potential in the role of Elliott Arnold, a Miami ad man whose untethered, post-divorce lifestyle brings him into contact with a cast of colorful characters fighting for control of the aforementioned thermonuclear device. The FBI, the police, the Russians and the mob all have a stake in determining who gets to own the weapon, but Arnold becomes the unlikely guardian of the peace. Can he keep the bomb out of criminal hands while repairing his frayed relationship with his son (Ben Foster) and making time with a neglected high-society housewife (Rene Russo)?

Adapted from the first novel by Miami Herald humor columnist Dave Barry, "Big Trouble" makes running gags out of worn-out gambits like foot fetishism and the hallucinogenic properties of toad secretions. Prince-of-all-hacks director Barry Sonnenfeld ("Wild Wild West," "Men in Black") races through the material, never pausing to develop a legitimate character or performance.

It's plain creepy to watch two bumbling crooks (Tom Sizemore and Johnny Knoxville) spirit the bomb past inept airport officials, but the civil-liberties contingent should take particular exception to a scene in which the heroic FBI men (Omar Epps and rapper Dwight "Heavy D" Myers) violently interrogate a pair of suspects, citing an "executive order" that permits them to tromp all over the rights of the not-yet-accused. Ha-ha, that joke's not funny any more.

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