CAPSULE: THE BIG BANG (2011)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Sienna Guillory, , Robert Maillet, Autumn Reeser, William Fichtner, Jimmi Simpson, Snoop Dogg

PLOT: An L.A. private eye goes looking for a missing stripper and uncovers a twisted plot involving the Russian mob, stolen diamonds, and the search for the God particle.

Still from The Big Bang (2011)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  The fact that it’s only a bit offbeat means that we won’t have to dig too deeply into its filmic deficiencies; basically, it’s not weird enough.

COMMENTS: Most critics consider The Big Bang a cosmic failure, but, although the movie’s a mess, there may be just enough quirky particles floating around it to keep fans of the offbeat engaged.  Any movie that includes an invulnerable seven-foot Russian boxer, three different hair colors on Sam Elliot’s head, a horny waitress with quantum physics tattoos, a search for the origins of the universe, and a Snoop Dogg cameo is, in my book, worth at least a look.  The film also features entertaining (if often superfluous) visuals: crazy color schemes (you’ve never seen so much lavender outside of an aromatherapist’s waiting room), a dreamy overnight cruise in a convertible through a surreal CG desert, and some arresting tricks with spotlights whose beams stop short or bend around characters caught in its glare.  For the most part, the missing girl/stolen diamonds plot hangs together both as a mystery and a noir tribute, drawing you through to the end (even though that end doesn’t make a lot of sense).  The movie’s stylistically scattershot, with every color in the spectrum taking a turn dominating the palette (and the aforementioned lavender taking more than its fair share of turns) and magical realist digressions (like the catapulted flaming dwarf) popping up at unexpected times.  The eclecticism keeps it from being boring, but also prevents it from attaining the consistency it needs to be really effective.  The direction often seems improvised; the script, too, is a mixed bag.  The storyline is satisfactory, but the updated faux-Raymond Chandler patter lacks panache (“we’ve all got kinks… contrary to what science tells us, all DNA does not twist the same.”)  Despite an attempted application of quirkiness, the characterizations end up familiar and shallow: hard-boiled P.I., brutish boxer, stripper with a heart of gold, and so forth.  Elliot (as a hippie industrialist who builds supercolliding superconductors as a hobby), Reeser (as a quirky and perky waitress) and Simpson (as a synesthesiac scientist) add nuance to their portrayals, but the rest of the cast play their archetypes broadly.  Particularly disappointing is Banderas, who, squint and growl as he might, doesn’t bring anything new to the hard-bitten private dick role except his accent.  Maybe it’s not his fault, as the script doesn’t seem written with Antonio in mind: he’s given a Hispanic name (Cruz), but other than that there’s no acknowledgment of his foreign origin—which might have been the one thing the script could seize on to distinguish him from Phillip Marlow, Sam Spade, Mike Hammer, and their numerous clones.  The story stresses the detective’s philosophical acumen—his search for the missing girl becomes a metaphor for man’s search for meaning—but existentialism has always been the subtext of film noir, and The Big Bang just makes over-obvious what was implicit in the 40s.  The movie also wants to make sure you catch its many, many nods to subatomic physics, so it writes its references in letters three feet high (a warehouse named after Schrödinger, a cafe named after Planck).  Maybe The Big Bang‘s biggest problem is that it’s overanxious to impress us with its cleverness and style; it comes across like a desperate first date.  But that desperation also makes the movie crazy, and if you catch it with the right expectations you just may enjoy it.  It’s a movie that seems made to play on late night pay cable: if you caught it by accident at 2 AM on a sleepless night, you’d be incredulous, and wonder if you were actually dreaming.

Director has been a very successful producer, guiding several critically acclaimed TV shows (including cult favorites “Sports Night” and “24”).  He was also on the production team for David Lynch‘s Mulholland Drive.  He knows how to put together a professional-looking movie, but his directorial efforts (which also include the mildly surreal horror Sublime), though filled with interesting bits and pieces, have never really come together.   He’s got obvious visual talents and the right (i.e. weird) sensibilities, though, so he’s still someone to keep an eye on.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… the film’s bleary, neon glamour and penchant for the bizarre suggests an attempted—and wayward—homage to David Lynch.”–Michelle Orange, The Village Voice (contemporaneous)

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