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Barry Bad Things 

by Ed Symkus

For as many laughs as this long-delayed picture gives -- and they are considerable in number -- there are almost as many problems. But that second part is not the fault of the director or the team of screenwriters or the actors. That blame must fall squarely on the source material, the novel by Dave Barry.

Barry is the nationally syndicated columnist who has lots of great ideas bouncing around in his head and seems to insist on using every one of them every time. His pieces have funny moments, but then he usually drags them out, trying to say and do too many things at once, thereby losing the funny edge he starts with.

I've not read Big Trouble, the novel, but Big Trouble, the movie, is a big melange of this and that, of who and who else, of nasty individuals, of idiotic criminals, of short-tempered hitmen, of rich, of poor, of non-thinking teens, of unhappy adults, of good cops and foolish cops, of just plain folks, all of whom are caught up in a series of events in Miami that shouldn't have anything to do with one another.

And yes, most of it is quite funny. But nobody making it -- and now the blame goes beyond the original author -- knew when to stop.

It starts off, for no reason that makes sense, with a Jesus-like character named Puggy (Jason Lee) eating corn chips and telling the Biblical story of Noah, while hanging out high up in the tree platform he's decided to call home. The scene is purportedly here to introduce the rest of the story, which it does, but Puggy is not referred to as a narrator again; he just becomes one of the characters. This is an early signal that the storytelling is going to be a bit choppy.

Now choppy can be a good thing, and for a while there's a lot of fun to be had in trying to keep track of how many stories are going on. At this point the movie is narrated by one of the lead characters, Eliot (Tim Allen), a journalist turned advertising man who's divorced and is having difficulty communicating with his teenage son Matt (Ben Foster). Over in the nice part of town, the Herks, Anna and Arthur (Rene Russo and Stanley Tucci), are having their own difficulties: they hate each other. She's very nice and he's a jerk. (Tucci, in all his big-eyed, clenched-teeth, roaring glory, got the rich, arrogant, loud-mouthed part down pat; he's hilarious.) These people are all tied together through the friendship (or is it a crush?) between Matt and the Herks' laid-back daughter Jenny (Zooey Deschanel). There's also a side story of some gunplay -- not to worry, it's a water gun -- between the two teens.

But if you think that sets the stage, think again. There are also stories about the two hitmen who are taking aim at Arthur Herk, about the two Russians who run a bar that features a backroom full of missiles and bombs -- every one of them for sale -- about a couple of FBI agents who are trying to track down a nuclear warhead rumored to be in that backroom, about partner cops who just happen to be around every time a gun goes off, no matter if the contents are bullets or water, and about both Martha Stewart and a small herd of goats.

That the release of the film was delayed from its original late September date makes perfect sense, since a lot of its comedy is based at an airport, where there are attempts made to sneak the bomb onto a plane. One still winces at how unfunny some of the jabs at airport security are, even after all these months since September have gone by. But the scene is brief, and it does propel the plot some.

The loopy humor of the whole thing is about as upfront as can be, all of it coming on in fast-and-furious mode, thanks to the editing skills of Steven Weisberg, who must have worn himself out keeping up such a rapid-fire pace. Because there are so many shenanigans, some fall flat. But that, too, goes by in a flash, and before long, there are laughs again. They could come from watching Dennis Farina do a series of slow burns, or from the subtle fact that only skinny Jason Lee is strong enough to carry around the big bomb in its shiny case (and does so without breaking a sweat). Or, as the filmmakers probably hope, it could come from the odd but spirited contribution of Martha Stewart.

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