The Austin Chronicle

The Big Bounce

Rated PG-13, 89 min. Directed by George Armitage. Starring Owen Wilson, Morgan Freeman, Sara Foster, Gary Sinise, Charlie Sheen, Vinnie Jones, Bebe Neuwirth, Willie Nelson.

REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Jan. 30, 2004

Owen Wilson is as cute as a box of kittens, but there’s just not a lot of juice in this limp caper film culled from Elmore Leonard’s eponymous 1969 paperback. Screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez (of the Karen Sisco TV series) moves the action from lakefront Michigan to the sunny shores of Hawaii, but not even the myriad beauty shots of pounding surf and pricey real estate impart a thrill. There’s one lovely moment, when Wilson and Freeman play drunken dominoes with co-star Willie Nelson and a certain grizzled character actor (in an uncredited walk-on). The scene feels fresh and ad-libbed; it’s the one moment in which director Armitage gets a handle on the seedy resort-town vibe of Leonard’s material. Otherwise the setting is dull, and the cult-friendly cast is given little more to do than pose. (Although Sheen makes an impression as a henpecked yes-man in gimme shirts and Sansabelts; he’s in self-deprecating sleazebag comic mode.) Wilson’s sunny surfer-guy aplomb takes a lot of bite out of the plot. As Jack, a burglar and petty thief with an eye for the ladies and a halfhearted wish to go straight, he’s so easygoing and relaxed that there’s not much tension afoot when he gets involved with Nancy (Foster), a leggy young babe attached to a smarmy real estate tycoon (Sinise, frightfully underused). Nancy likes bad boys, so she goads Jack into taking bigger and bigger risks – boosting cars, breaking into houses. But is she setting him up for a fall? Armitage plays these scenes like breezy farce, so we don’t get a sense of Jack’s inner turmoil, which is so essential to the suspense plot. (Yes, there is suspense in the plot.) There’s just no grit, only sun-dappled scenes of felonious mischief that don’t amount to much of a thrill (except that Foster, a model making her acting debut, wears a series of bikinis and sarongs). Wilson can work a thriller, as viewers of 1999’s The Minus Man can attest. But he’s phoning it in here. Sadly, so is Freeman. There’s a lot of unrealized potential in the film, particularly given Armitage’s résumé: He’s had a hand in some juicy nuggets of exploitation and cult fare, such as Gas-s-s-s. The worst thing about Bounce isn’t that it’s bad but that it just isn’t interesting. If the creative team had been willing to take a few risks of their own, there might be more … well … bounce.

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