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By Kevin Carr | February 1, 2004

“The Big Bounce” is an Elmore Leonard crime caper in the tradition of films like “Get Shorty,” “Out of Sight” and “Jackie Brown.” It contains the familiar slate of characters that are basically criminals and lowlifes but have a healthy dose of charm. It has the same interwoven plot. And it contains some twists and turns that you may or may not expect. 

The problem with “The Big Bounce,” however, is that while it winds the plot up tight enough, it unravels like a messy Chinese yo-yo instead of springing out at you with a smart ending. 

Jack Ryan (Owen Wilson) – not THE Jack Ryan of Tom Clancy fame – is a drifter who has ended up on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii. Between small-time robberies, Jack is marking time as a construction worker for Ray Ritchie (Gary Sinise), who is fighting the native Hawaiians about building a hotel on their sacred land. 

Jack makes friends with the North Shore District Judge Walter Crewes (Morgan Freeman) after spending a night in jail for clocking his foreman with a baseball bat. Crewes offers Jack a new job at his resort. While there, Jack runs into Ritchie’s live-in call girl Nancy (Sara Foster), who has a master plan to steal a quarter of a million dollars of Ritchie’s Teamster bribe money. All she needs is Jack’s help. 

To be fair to this film, the only real thing holding it together is the cast, which is one of the best ensembles in a while. What makes the other Elmore Leonard films work is the heart behind the characters, and that is provided by a cast that makes you feel like you’ve been friends with them for years. Sure, Morgan Freeman’s character isn’t much of a stretch from his previous endeavors, and Owen Wilson plays his standard surfer dude in a fix, but I like the cast and they made it fun. 

Newcomer Sara Foster is one of those supermodel-types-turned-break-out-actress. She’s beautiful, but not that bottled beautiful you see in so many lower-rent Hollywood actresses (like the ones on late-night Cinemax). There’s a feistiness behind her, and she ain’t bad to look at in a bikini either. She has decent chemistry with Wilson, which helps propel the story along. 

The supporting cast is great as well, with some fun cameos for Willie Nelson, Harry Dean Stanton and Bebe Neuwirth and Andrew Wilson (brother to Own). Ultimately, the cast does the best with what it had. Unfortunately, when the film is all played out, that just isn’t enough. But for the record, it isn’t the fault of the actors. 

The ending of the film is where the devil shows its teeth. Without giving anything away, I can say that the story doesn’t seem to wrap up as much as it seems to dissolve away like cotton candy when it gets wet. Double-crosses seemed to be planned but were executed so poorly I almost didn’t understand how they worked. And when the final resolution comes, it seems abrupt, improbable and not very cohesive. 

One key scene at the end seemed noticeably shortened to the point that I thought maybe the print I saw had been spliced too close during a reel change. This scene did involve a little bit of blood, which left me wondering if maybe it was just excised to retain a PG-13 rating. I had noticed several poorly looped lines earlier in the film that did nothing more than tone down the language. 

Second to the cast, the other really nice thing about “The Big Bounce” is the location. The film was shot entirely on the North Shore of Oahu, located across the island from Honolulu (which has less and less of the Hawaiian style every day). Having been to the Hawaiian Island myself, I can say that the film fully captures the feeling of Hawaii – not just in the tourist spots that us haole frequent, but the native town areas as well.

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