from Film Forum, 04/11/02
Based on a novel by humorist Dave Barry, Big Trouble introduces a long list of characters and more than a dozen storylines. All of them are concerned with the journey of a suitcase from one caper to another. It's not an ordinary suitcase—it contains a nuclear bomb. Tim Allen, Renee Russo, Patrick Warburton (The Dish), and other familiar faces populate this zany release from director Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black). And yet, like last week's Death to Smoochy, this celebrity-packed movie has critics wondering how so much talent could produce such disappointing work.
Steven Isaac (Focus on the Family) says, "Big Trouble works like a giant funnel, channeling radically disparate elements into one final blowup. Literally. [It] offers more than a couple of scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny. But they're outnumbered by the ones that are squirm-in-your-seat awkward. It's disappointing that in Big Trouble, all the crafty, clever, genuinely funny stuff gets hidden behind the off-color jokes and crude gags."
Holly McClure (Crosswalk), Phil Boatwright (The Movie Reporter), and John Barber (Preview) complain of the film's excessive language, and "sophomoric, crude, and profane humor."
Likewise, Lisa Rice (Movieguide) writes, "Despite some clever special effects … the cute storyline and some funny, exciting moments, Big Trouble falls way short. Too many of the gags were silly, inane, and uninteresting. The foul language was excessive, the characters were void of moral compasses, and the violence was irritating."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops critic goes easy on the caper, calling it a "witty but slight farce" with "amiable performances."
Some argue that, although Big Trouble was made before September 11 (it was originally scheduled to release September 21), its humorous treatment of terrorism should have provoked the studio to cancel its release entirely. Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) writes, "We cannot ignore the fact that there are scenes in this film which may trigger painful memories … especially in those who were most personally affected by those tragic events."
Elliott does give the film some credit: "With a talented ensemble cast … [Sonnenfeld] manages to capture the irreverent and often hilarious writing style of Dave Barry. The ensemble cast … light up the screen with comedic brilliance."
But Douglas Downs (Christian Spotlight) argues, "Disney's Touchstone pictures can blame all they want on rotten timing … there are many other ingredients that make this offbeat comedy lean more to the 'off' side. Big Trouble is without a doubt a big waste of time."
The movie did not fare much better in the mainstream press. Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) gave it a few points: "It seems so crowded that it sometimes feels like the casting call for an eventual picture not yet made—but it has its charms. These are terrorists and bombs from a simpler and more innocent time. The movie is a reminder of an age when such plots were obviously not to be taken seriously. It's nice to be reminded of that time."