| Sara Foster wields her mighty weapon in The Big Bounce.
Dir. George Armitage; writ. Elmore Leonard (novel), Sebastian Gutierrez; feat. Owen Wilson, Morgan Freeman, Charlie Sheen, Sara Foster (PG-13)
Judging from a few off-hand lines in The Big Bounce, the film's title refers to the adrenaline kick that comes from doing something illegal, like sneaking into a wealthy stranger's beach house. The movie, like most adapted from Elmore Leonard novels, aims to provide said kick without the buzz-killing incarceration that often follows such thrills in the real world.
But unlike its brothers Out of Sight and Get Shorty, this little crime flick does anything but bounce. The rubber ball may start in the air - but when it hits the floor, it stays there.
That's no fault of star Owen Wilson, who for the movie's first half does all the things fans like him to do. (Owen-haters won't need to be told they should pick another movie this weekend.) Appropriately enough, Wilson's squinty surfer dude is planted in Hawaii, where he is working on a construction crew and hiding out from some mainland police attention.
In the story's most enjoyable scene, Wilson's Jack Ryan (no relation to Tom Clancy's hero) takes offense at an ethnic slur made by his foreman and, when the foreman gets violent, plants an aluminum baseball bat in his jaw. Jack suddenly becomes unemployed, but just as quickly is hired as an all-around handyman by the town's judge (Morgan Freeman), who also owns a small resort.
He then meets his former boss' mistress, Nancy (Sara Foster), who wants to encourage Jack's criminal tendencies. A bleach-blonde who takes all the fun out of being a tramp, Foster is a dead ringer for the kept woman Bridget Fonda played in another Elmore Leonard film, Jackie Brown. Both characters are hateful; the difference is, Fonda was entertaining as well. Foster is dead weight in a string bikini, giving Wilson's goofy charm nothing to work with. So instead of bantering, the two embark on one of the least interesting heist plans in recent memory.
It's a good thing the plan is so uninvolving, otherwise, the ridiculous way it plays out would be a real letdown. As it is, the ill-advised twists and turns just take up time while we try to remember the name of the casting director. Who gives Gary Sinise two minutes of dialogue while assigning the main bad-guy role to Charlie Sheen? Who plucked Sara Foster from the scrap heap of would-be femmes fatales, then made Bebe Neuwirth an afterthought? (In her defense, casting director Mali Finn has better movies on her résumé, and does give us the minor treat here of seeing Willie Nelson play a lawman.)
It's hard to thoroughly dislike a movie that lets Owen Wilson be himself, but The Big Bounce does seem to try. As the movie bounces its way to a quick home video release, we can only hope that the upcoming Starsky and Hutch spoof puts him (and buddy Ben Stiller) to better use. •