Big Trouble
With Alan Arkin, Peter Falk, Beverly D'Angelo
Directed by John Cassavettes

My Rating:

Cassavettes on the light side with a heist romp.

Bitable Bytes:
"Classic Pairing of Arkin and Falk!"
"Keeping It Funny!"
"Light and Fluffy!"
"A Big Diplomacy Thing!"

What to do while watching:
Answer phone calls as they come.

What to eat while watching:
A pear.

I like movies very much. I love the ones that really wrap me up in a tale and transport me out of my life and my own day-to-day experience for a few hours. And because I tend to enjoy my day-to-day experience pretty thoroughly, I guess I can also enjoy films that don't intrude on what's going on in my life otherwise.

Big Trouble is the kind of film that I can pause to answer phone calls. Between calls, I'm highly entertained watching the classic pairing of Alan Arkin and Peter Falk. During calls, I know they aren't going anywhere, and I can get back to their antics without having to stop and rewind to pick up subtle plot points.

Arkin and Falk are great foils for one another. As in The In-laws, we get Arkin acting very nervous and awkward most of the time, and doing it quite well--keeping it fresh and funny even with the repetition. And we get Falk doing the laid-back sweet guy even in the face of extreme danger and--of course--big trouble. The mark of a true comedian is the ability to keep repeating the same basic joke and keeping it funny each time. Both of these gentlemen fall into that category.

Director John Cassavettes, on the other hand, is a genius for the opposite reason. With this film, he breaks away from gripping drama, deep characterizations, and fascinating cinematography for what basically amounts to the cinema equivalent of a top-ten pop song. It's light and you can tap your toes to it. Kudos to John for taking some time off to get light and fluffy, and for letting me have some breathing room to take phone calls.

The tale is not so twisty that you can't follow it. Arkin plays the father of triplets, all musicians who want to go to Yale. Arkin's dingy wife insists they go to Yale, but as an insurance salesman (classic Arkin typecast), dad can't make the dough to send them to their dream Ivy League school.

He rather randomly stumbles across a scam being pulled by the Ripleys, believe it or not. Falk and Beverly D'Angelo play a married couple. D'Angelo uses Arkin and his insurance expertise to set up a con around a life policy with a quirky double-indemnity clause that pays five million dollars if her husband falls off a train. She tells Arkin that her husband is on the verge of death anyway from his bad heart, so that if Arkin can get the policy written and signed, she and Arkin can push Falk from a train and collect all those zeros with the five before them.

It's actually much simpler than that, but I'm trying to give the intrigue a boost here. Ring! It's my friend Josho!

After finding out about his recent trip to Seattle, I return to Big Trouble for a nice, easy twist in the plot. As you'd have guessed, Falk isn't about to knock off only 30 minutes into the movie. In fact D'Angelo and Falk have staged the staging of the death and now Falk returns in the guise of his own lawyer to settle with the insurance claims people.

Scams escalate and Arkin, nearly fainting in every scene from fear of getting found out, at last comes to accept a life of crime. He and Falk break into the home of the billionaire owner of the insurance company only to find themselves caught in the act by a surprise birthday party when the man comes home.

This is actually extremely funny. Ring! It's mom! Good thing too. I need to catch up on some family details and plan on my trip next month. My in laws (speaking of) live in the same area as my parents, so it's always a big diplomacy thing trying to divide up my wife and my visits south. Her mom gets Friday night and Saturday morning. My folks get Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon, and we sleep in a hotel on Saturday night--can you relate?

Meanwhile, in Crime-romp-land, Arkin and Falk decide to break into the corporate offices since robbing the home of the president was such a bust. Why they aren't already in prison is a question better left unasked: It won't do much good to start picking this pastry apart.

Falk and Arkin are having a pretty fair time at the office, trying to get into the safe. Oddly enough, they have chosen the exact same night for their robbery as a terrorist organization has set to blow up the whole building. The mix-ups are wacky, and somehow, the two of them manage to subdue a gang of 12 armed reactionaries and save the day.

Ring! Over the closing credits, which depict a very pleased cast taking its last improvised moments of fun, I make plans with Steve and Judy to carpool to tomorrow's party.

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For your collection: Big Trouble

Gooden's listening to: Old mush-mouth himself. Among the most original cover musicians around, the inimitable Leon Redbone, On the Track from 1975.

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