Watching "The Big Bounce," a loose, half-hearted adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel, one is forced to wonder who the intended audience is. Not funny enough to be a comedy, not involving enough to be a caper, and not serious enough to be a thriller, the film languishes in a frustrating limbo between genres and never finds its way out of the muck. What is left is 88 minutes of pretty pictures, courtesy of some lush Hawaiian scenery by cinematographer Jeffrey L. Kimball (2003's "Paycheck
"), in search of a plot and a point.
Jack Ryan (Owen Wilson) is a low-key con man who, after a run-in with the law for taking a bat to a construction site foreman (Vinnie Jones), is invited to work for judge Walter Crewes (Morgan Freeman) at his bungalow resort along the Hawaii coast. It is here that he meets Nancy Hayes (Sara Foster), an attractive young woman with a fetish for bad boys. She is currently dating wealthy, out-of-town land developer Ray Ritchie (Gary Sinise), and soon she and Jack are embroiled in both a romance and a scheme to steal $300,000 from Ray. Jack knows better than to trust Nancy, who clearly gets off on manipulating the men around her, but darn it, she's too cute and sexy to resist.
Add in Ray's bumbling right-hand man (Charlie Sheen) and Ray's boozy wife (Bebe Neuwirth) and what you have is a heist picture that has no interest in its heist premise and a group of offbeat characters who predictably double-cross each other for no reason other than to jerk the audience around. When these elements finally come into play during the climax, they are merely afterthoughts. And when things grow too complicated (read: when a plot is actually discovered), the movie bizarrely stops the sequence in mid-flow and just ends without any kind of payoff.
For most of its, albeit brief, running time, "The Big Bounce" consists of characters sitting around talking to each other or characters aimlessly walking the beaches while chatting it up. Interspersed are scenes in which Jack and Nancy randomly pick out houses and steal from the owners right under their noses. When all else fails, director George Armitage (1997's "Grosse Pointe Blank") resorts to beautifully shot but subjectively pointless surfing footage that has nothing to do with anything other than pad out the 88 minutes.
Since there is little story to grasp hold of, and the comedy is worth a total of three or four small chuckles and no full-out laughs, the only thing to concentrate on is Jack and Nancy evolving relationship. As played by Owen Wilson (2002's "I Spy
") and Sara Foster (a former model making her film debut), Jack and Nancy are an appealing couple who have an easygoing rapport with each other. So much time is spent between these two that it comes as a further shame that neither character experiences anything throughout that would be considered an arc or a moment of self-realization. Furthermore, their romance is all for nothing, and thrown away by the worthless final scene. Owen Wilson is good in just about anything, but he is miscast as a criminal, even one that is also supposed to be the hero. As for Sara Foster, she is never for a second believable as a femme fatale, but she has an undeniably likable presence. With better-suited parts, she could definitely have a future in acting.
Adding support and not doing an acceptable job of it are Morgan Freeman (2003's "Dreamcatcher
"), cashing a paycheck and still managing to bring dignity to a role that does him no favors; Gary Sinise (2003's "The Human Stain
"), whose forgettable work as Ray Ritchie amounts to a cameo appearance and mindboggling third billing; Charlie Sheen (2003's "Scary Movie 3
"), whose character of Bob Rogers Jr., as far as I can tell, holds no bearing on anything that occurs throughout; and a disastrously used Bebe Neuwirth (2003's "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
"), who staggers her way through scenes with a glass of booze always in hand.
"The Big Bounce" may feature a cast of A-list participants, but it is a B-list movie from beginning to end. The only explanation for Owen Wilson and Morgan Freeman's appearances is, at most, a nice little vacation to Hawaii and a fancy paycheck. There is no drive to "The Big Bounce," no sense of escalating tension or heightened stakes, no lessons learned from anyone, and undoubtedly no point for its existence. You know you're in trouble when, in the opening two minutes, you spot the reflection of a huge helicopter in a house's window during a key aerial shot. Save for this amazingly amateurish gaffe, at least the photography is beautiful to look at. In the case of "The Big Bounce," this technical element is the only thing to grab onto when everything else is evaporating into thin air before your very eyes.