Conduct Unbecoming


Given his track record, it’d seem quarrelsome to accuse Barry Sonnenfeld of harboring any world-historic pretensions. Leave it to world history, though, to spike the punchline: Originally slated for release last September, the fitfully amusing Big Trouble makes an impression mainly through the shivery disjunction between its MOR nuke-in-a-suitcase slapstick and the far darker absurdity of the United States’ war on terrorism.

Based on the novel by humorist Dave Barry, the film nominally centers around lovable schlub Eliot (Tim Allen), a divorced dad and ex-Miami Herald larf columnist who finds himself enmeshed in a zany web of events too strenuously arranged to summarize. Suffice it to say that the yuks revolve around a large cast encountering large troubles, sparked by the frequent changing-of-hands of a large suitcase containing one rather small warhead. Which ultimately passes through airport security and lands on a plane. Which is almost shot down by government fighter jets. Which are summoned by FBI agents (Heavy D and Omar Epps) operating under a special executive order that’s already allowed them to play a brutal game of bad cop/worse cop with an immigrant arms smuggler. All of which makes for distinctly uneasy viewing, as Big Trouble‘s massive subtext repeatedly threatens to overwhelm its haphazardly stylized diegesis.

Again, that’s the fault of neither Barry, and the unexpectedly strange fruit of their comedic labors boasts several droll pairings, most notably Janeane Garofalo as a no-bullshit policewoman and Patrick Warburton as her hunkish, lunkish partner. But cute intentions and shaggy comedy only get you so far when the world is falling down around you.

On the other hand, when life throws you a curveball—or your hubby into a military court—the only thing to do is put on that no-nonsense lipstick and your best power suit and step up to the plate. Secret trials and buried atrocities are no match for a plucky (and rich, and svelte) young heroine, least of all Ms. Ashley Judd, who eyebrow-cocks her way through Carl Franklin’s witless High Crimes. Never mind that aforementioned mate Jim Caviezel may well have slaughtered innocents in El Salvador before going AWOL. Never mind that noble hired gun and former military attorney Morgan Freeman is off the wagon again. This gal will not quit. Which is presumably the point: a Lifetime-via-Perry Mason affirmation of brass-balls femininity, as Ms. Judd pursues truth, justice, et cetera, by righteously pissing off numerous Marine Corps bigwigs. High Crimes being as much a cartoon as Big Trouble, such ham-fisted tactics inevitably aid our protag in exculpating the man she loves. And whom she can actually locate after Uncle Sam whisks him off to his tribunal.