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Press Review March 21, 2002
 
Big Trouble
By Matt Taibbi Browse author
 
Page 2 of 4
 
The movie is bound to confirm Barry's reputation for "wackiness" and for being "genuinely crazy" and "a nut", descriptions which the Barry phenomenon has gone a long way toward rendering as meaningless as "brilliant" and "masterpiece" and "a work of genius."

The story is apparently sufficiently banal for fans of both Barry and Sonnenfeld: Sonnenfeld even approvingly calls it "sort of a wacky, energetic version of Get Shorty,"

A bitter review by critic Victoria Alexander roughly sums up the plot:

"Tim Allen heads his own small advertising firm in Miami. His son's high school spray gun game victim is the step-daughter of a guy (Stanley Tucci) who is being hunted by two Mafia hitmen, one of them played by Dennis Farina. His wife (Rene Russo) is bored with him. Two FBI guys are after the bomb Tucci buys. The two aforementioned petty thieves want the bomb not because they can sell it but because it's big. Two of Miami's police officers are also involved in the chase but are incompetent. And I shouldn't ignore Jason Lee's role as a filthy hippie who watches the whole mess from Tucci's tree. Why, and what's the point? I don't know. Only Heavy D, as one of the FBI agents, stands out in this 'comedy.'"

Whatever. There are lots of people besides Barry, including Sonnenfeld and his buddies at Touchstone, who can probably be assigned large portions of blame for bringing this movie into being. The book, however, is a different story. Big Trouble was based on a Barry novel by the same name, and this aggressive venture by America's ranking yukster into the realm of prose fiction is the reason he will be advancing into the finals of this illustrious tournament.

Most famous columnists end up writing novels eventually. William Safire has been quietly writing atrocious novels for years. Calvin Trillin sneaked a book called Tepper Isn't Going Out into print lately. The transformation almost never works, and usually the author goes back to newspaper writing with renewed vigor once he gets his literary failure out of his system.

Occasionally a mainstream journalist gets famous as a fiction writer -- Tom Wolfe, Joe Klein. Barry was definitely inspired by Miami Herald buddy Carl Hiaasen. But Big Trouble is less in the Bonfire of the Vanities first-novel tradition than it is in Stephen King gross-commercial-success-makes-assualt-on-literary-history mold. This is Barry's play for serious recognition.

Remember that whole business in the late nineties where Stephen King left Viking when they wouldn't pay $18 million for a new novel called Bag of Bones? Well, he was also upset with Viking's marketing decisions. He eventually went to Simon and Schuster, which agreed not only to the money but to austere covers with sans serif fonts and abstract dream-image illustrations. Bag of Bones when it came out looked like a Saul Bellow novel. He followed that with two more drearily-covered books, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and Hearts in Atlantis, and started including more sensitively-drawn female characters. He started pushing for reviews in stuffier magazines and made more appearances at colleges in a naked campaign to have his books studied in lit curriculums. To give you an idea of his mindset at this time, he also began during this period to publicly contemplate buying the Boston Red Sox. Whatever he was doing, it worked: by 2000 or so articles started appearing which commented upon the transformation from popular horror writer into "seriously-regarded American man of letters."

Tom Clancy went through a similar phase when he put out Rainbow Six, which smelled suspiciously like a Tom Clancy version of Aldous Huxley and inspired reactions like "apocalyptic" and "disturbing." But like King, whose Hearts in Atlantis was basically a fag version of Apt Pupil, Clancy was unwilling to budge from his usual lineup of characters, so the new Huxleyesque thing featured the same cast of CIA agents and terrorists. Nonetheless it will probably work, and by 2035 Yale professors will probably be teaching Clancy to grad students.


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