When director Barry Sonnenfeld started making a film of humorist Dave Barry’s first novel, Big Trouble — this was pre-September 11th — he had no idea that bombs and airport security would be hell to play for laughs. He knows now. So does Disney, which originally scheduled the film for release on September 21st, 2001. The studio was stuck: It couldn’t cut those scenes, since the plot pivots on them, but it could hold the release and hope for the best. Good luck. It’s not just the cringe-inducing moments at the Miami airport where a nuclear bomb, clearly visible through scanners, passes through security. The big problem with Big Trouble, despite a fine cast and director (Sonnenfeld made Get Shorty and Men in Black), is that the damn thing isn’t funny.
Even the best actors need workable material, and screenwriters Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone, the perpetrators of Destiny Turns On the Radio, don’t provide it. Sonnenfeld directs the film like Noah, throwing in two of everything: two disgruntled parents (Tim Allen and Rene Russo), two disgruntled teens (Ben Foster and Zooey Deschanel), two bumbling cops (Patrick Warburton and Janeane Garofalo), two bumbling FBI guys (Omar Epps and Dwight “Heavy D” Myers), two bumbling hitmen (Dennis Farina and Jack Kehler), two bumbling crooks (Tom Sizemore and Johnny Knoxville). Solid actors are stranded. It’s meant to be a riot to watch Stanley Tucci, playing the devious businessman who sets the plot in motion with a bomb-selling scheme, suck the toes of a Peruvian maid (Sofia Vergara). Jason Lee is cast as a vagrant who lives in a tree and devours Fritos in a shameless bout of product plugging. Truth be told, Miami is the only element in this stinker that comes out looking good.