The Big Bounce

Elmore Leonard is such a great pulp writer it’s a shame when Hollywood mangles his words. Every now and then they get it right, but for every “Get Shorty” and “Out of Sight” there’s a “52 Pick-Up” and “Stick” hanging around like a lead weight.

Then there’s “The Big Bounce,” a crotch scratch of a movie that does nothing to satisfy a Leonard itch, a bad remake of a bad 1969 film starring Ryan O’Neal and Leigh Taylor-Young. Studios usually reserve January to unleash their dogs, appropriate when you consider that the only trick this mutt can muster is to roll over and play dead.

Especially disappointing since “The Big Bounce” comes from director George Armitage, who confirmed with “Grosse Pointe Blank” and “Miami Blues” a talent for delivering quirky crime dramas. “The Big Bounce” has none of Armitage’s trademark edge, character definition or style. It’s flat and uninteresting, stocked with one-dimensional characters and familiar plot turns by writer Sebastian Gutierrez. The only clever thing about “The Big Bounce” was that the filmmakers were able to convince a studio to remake a Ryan O’Neal film without the words “Love Story” in the title.

Gutierrez loosely bases his script on Leonard’s novel, but fails to grasp the author’s complex story structure and flashes of black humor. “The Big Bounce” is lightweight and fluffy, features beautiful people in beautiful surroundings, but fails as a crime caper. It lacks suspense and never fully engages us. If you don’t care about the characters, why should you care if they get away with it?

“They” would be drifter-con man Jack Ryan (Owen Wilson, in full surfer dude mode), hiding from his past in Hawaii, and Nancy Hayes (Sara Foster), the moll of shady real estate developer Ray Ritchie (Gary Sinise). After a run-in with the law involving a baseball bat and a construction foreman (Vinnie Jones), Ryan ends up working as a handyman at a hotel for local district judge Walter Crewes (Morgan Freeman).

Hayes recruits Ryan to help steal $200,000 from Ritchie, an offer he finds impossible to turn down. A nice rack and a pretty smile go a long way. Armitage manages to put all of the pieces and participants in place for a great caper, but at 88 minutes long, “The Big Bounce” feels incomplete and yet unnecessarily long.

That’s because it really doesn’t have a reason to exist, except as a paid vacation for the cast and crew. Pretty people and picture postcard scenery are nice for the Travel Channel, but a movie based on an Elmore Leonard novel should also include engaging characters, suspense, excitement, sparkling dialogue and unexpected plot twists. Grading on that curve, “The Big Bounce” gets a “D.”

Wilson is perfectly packaged to play Ryan, blonde, tan, goofy. Sara Foster is a pleasant distraction, a flesh and blood Coppertone billboard, while Morgan Freeman finds himself playing second fiddle to Melanoma Barbie and Ken. Gary Sinise provides the prerequisite snarl as the villain, and Charlie Sheen has fun with his not-so-bright second banana.

I have enough respect for Armitage to believe that “The Big Bounce” is a case of a good director trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Too bad he ended up with ham.

Crime and Coconuts

Warmed Over Elmore Leonard fails to Bounce


Owen Wilson, Morgan Freeman, Gary Sinise. Directed by George Armitage. Rated PG-13.


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