The Big Bounce

February, 2004, Thriller

Insouciant-adj.  Carefree; unconcerned

Oxford American Dictionary

Movie critics rarely give enough credit to those capable of producing movies whose primary purpose is simply to charm audiences. Cary Grant never won an Oscar, despite a half-dozen roles worthy of a statuette; he's the most egregious example of this lapse in the acting category, but the same can be said of at least a half-dozen directors who turned out wonderful films, frequently to great public acclaim, but never with the artistic recognition their talents deserved-Preston Sturges, and Stanley Donen to name just two.

Elmore Leonard writes the best dialogue to be found in American crime fiction, giving his world-weary, cynical characters the kind of drop-dead lines any actor would kill for. As a result, two of his novels have been made into highly successful movies, each starring a leading actor whose performance was the essence of cool-- John Trovolta as a self-assured debt collector for the mob in Get Shorty and George Clooney, as the bank robber with an eye for the stunning federal marshal sent to arrest him in Out of Sight. The former was directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and the latter by Steven Soderberg; both proved eminently capable of handling this type of material with the requisite delicate touch. In this Leonard adaptation however, George Armitage, (who directed the fine Miami Blues with Alec Baldwin and the equally sharp Grosse Point Blank with John Cusack ) wastes the talents of Owen Wilson in a labored effort to carry on the author's tradition of crooked-but-likeable heroes. Despite some occasionally clever dialogue and Wilson's consistent charm, Bounce is a certifiable dud. Leonard deserves an apology and audiences should get their money back. What went wrong?

Wilson certainly has the equipment to play in this genre; in films from Shanghai Noon to The Royal Tannenbaums, he's displayed a wonderful ability to make larceny altogether likeable. With Clooney, he can be clever without actually being smart and with his blond hair, crooked smile and ski-jump shaped nose, he manages to be attractive enough to talk a woman out of her clothes as well as her fortune. Unlike the smartass cockiness of a Jack Nicholson or Ben Afleck, Wilson's characters come imbued with an abundance of the adjective defined above. 

Unfortunately, insouciance alone doth not a movie make. Someone forgot to tell screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez that clever throwaway lines aren't enough--they have to be wrapped around a storyline sufficient clever to carry them. In this dreary mess, Wilson plays opposite supermodel Sara Foster who's after $200,000 in payoff money her thuggish lover (Gary Sinise) intends to use in bribing his way to the construction of a luxury hotel in Hawaii. Armitage shoots Ms. Foster in the tiniest amount of clothing possible to earn a PG-13 rating and while her chassis is a thing of beauty to behold, the gray matter under her hood simply isn't up to the task of paying a light-hearted femme fatale. Centerfold material she certainly is; a leading lady she's most definitely not.

 A host of otherwise fine actors (Morgan Freedman, Bebe Neuwirth, and Charlie Sheen) wander in and out of various cameos in a laborious attempt to separate Sinise from his money without any thought to building continuity or creating suspense. (You know a movie is in trouble when its transition shots consist of surfers riding wave after wave with no connection to what's happening on shore). Even Leonard's deadpan message, (sometimes things are exactly as they appear) gets mangled in this heavy-handed effort to deliver lighthearted entertainment. 

Ironically, making a movie appear effortless requires a lot of hard work; sadly, Armitage strains too much with too little and delivers a turkey. 

The Verdict? Skip it.


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