The Big Bounce
Directed by George Armitage
Written by Sebastian Gutierrez from the novel by Elmore Leonard
Starring Owen Wilson, Morgan Freeman, Sara Foster


The Big Bounce

Let's be clear: Owen Wilson rules. When he's on screen you see that long, broken nose set in the boyish face, under the scruffy blond hair and you don't want to look at anyone else. But it's not his looks alone; it's the soft Texas twang in his voice and the amazing delivery of lines that would be meat loaf in anybody else's hands - great intelligence hidden behind a fašade of terminal geniality - that make him so compelling when he's got a decent script. He's the new generation's Jimmy Buffett.

But speaking of decent scripts, "The Big Bounce" is only halfway there, and don't ask what the title means, either. I have no idea. Taken from an early Elmore Leonard novel, it's about easygoing small-time crook Jack Ryan (Wilson), whom we meet while he's working on a construction crew for a new resort hotel on the back side of Oahu. But the bully of a foreman won't let him take a few swings in a softball game and threatens him. "But I've got a bat in my hand," says Jack, in that lovely soft voice. "Why would you want to fight me?" Nevertheless, after a swing caught on the jaw and on the evening news Jack is fired and lands a job working for local judge and small-time property owner Walter Crewes (Morgan Freeman at his wisest and most relaxed, which, were he playing opposite anybody else, would take over the screen as well).

At that point the plot goes, how shall I put this, kerflooey. Jack meets Nancy (Sara Foster), mistress to the big hotel boss Ray Ritchie (Gary Sinise) and his enforcer Bob Junior (Charlie Sheen in an unrecognizable mustache). Everybody has the hots for Nancy, who tells Jack that there's big money up in Ritchie's hunting lodge and sets him up to rob the place. But between the mixups, the missed connections, the unexplained double- and triple-crosses and the frequently interpolated big-wave surfing shots (to stretch the film to feature length), plus a dominoes game with Willie Nelson and Harry Dean Stanton (don't ask) I don't believe anybody in the movie ended up knowing any more than I did.

But that's not what we love Elmore Leonard for. If you parse his plots there's very little there. The thing is, he's a master of his genre, with great lines topping each other like whipped cream on a cake. The best of his adaptations - "Get Shorty," "Jackie Brown," "Out of Sight" - all spent little time on plot strategies but let us wallow in dialogue and quirky character portraits. That's his genius and we should be grateful.