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|The Big White
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
dir Mark Mylod
scr Collin Friesen
with Robin Williams, Holly Hunter, Giovanni Ribisi, Alison Lohman, Tim Blake Nelson, W Earl Brown, Woody Harrelson, Billy Merasty, Ralph J. Alderman, Marina Stephenseon Kerr, Frank C Turner, Frank Adamson
release US 16.Dec.05,
05/US Capitol 1h40
Kinda funny lookin: Lohman and Ribisi
This quirky wintry comedy tries its best to be blackly funny, but never quite gets there. What starts as a promising pesky-dead-body comedy soon unravels into an unfocussed farce.
When Paul (Williams) finds a corpse in the dumpster behind his travel agency, it might be the solution to all his problems, as it'll finally close the case on his missing brother (Harrelson) so he can claim the million-dollar life insurance policy and get some treatment for his Tourette's-afflicted wife (Hunter). But the tenacious insurance investigator (Ribisi) smells something fishy. And the gay hitmen (Nelson and Brown) need to get the body back.
Set in a small Alaskan town in November, the film has terrific white-on-white production design, both inside and out. And director Mylod uses this cleverly to set off the characters and their individual situations. The cast is also quite enjoyable, clearly having a ball creating this bunch of desperados, all of whom have deeply personal obsessions and major obstacles to achieving their goals. Ribisi is especially good at this subdued frustration, and his scenes with girlfriend Lohman crackle with brittle energy. Hunter and Harrelson are completely over-the-top in outrageously goofy roles.
It's this uneven mix that ultimately sabotages the film. Blending zany antics with more subtle black comedy is virtually impossible. This film's tone is all over the place, and as a result it feels like quirkiness for quirkiness' sake, especially as neither the story nor characters develop at all. There's just nothing to it, so as it cranks up into a ridiculously wacky farce we lose all interest.
Genuine attempts by Williams to add some emotional resonance can't rescue the film at all, mostly because this tiny whiff of subtext feels completely lost in such an empty-headed mess. This film has been compared to Fargo, presumably because it's a snowbound caper comedy, but the two films couldn't be more different. Where Fargo surprised us with a compelling mystery, complex characters and superbly developed relationships, this film just flops around on screen with nowhere to go. It's engaging, but utterly vacuous.
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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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