Friday, December 16, 2005

The Big Empty

Cowboys. Aliens. Blue suitcases and bowling balls. Strange things are happening out in the middle of nowhere. The tagline says it all really. This is not your average movie, and you won’t find anything like it at your local uber-cinema—maybe at an indy theater in a big city, but not really anywhere else. It might seem like it, but I wouldn’t exactly call this an anti-Hollywood picture, but it’s about as far as you can get from your big budget explode-o-rama’s, poop-piss-boob comedies, saccharine sweet melodramas, and horribly cheesy romantiflicks.

This unbelievably overlooked movie from 2003 can be picked up at just about any used dvd store, Hollywood video, or online for less than a 10-spot and it’s worth every penny. For being a movie that was made on a shoestring budget, it somehow stars a lot of current big names, such as Jon Favreau, Joey Lauren Adams, Sean Bean, and Kelsey Grammer. All of them turn in great performances, which is saying a lot, since three out of those four actors I can hardly stomach 90% of the time. Bean, on the other hand, is great in just about every movie he stars in, this being yet another.

So what the hell is The Big Empty about? Frankly, it’s hard to explain. At its core it’s about a down and out actor couriering a suitcase to the desert for an unreasonably large amount of cash so that he can pay off his credit card debt. From reading that, you’d think this movie would be more boring you’re your monotone college calculus professor. It’s not.

The reason it’s not is the myriad cast of characters. For example, the guy who hires John (Favreau) to courier the suitcase has been keeping tabs on John’s masturbatory patterns and his other varied uses for Vaseline. The man he’s supposed to deliver the case to isn’t just anybody either—he’s a pissed off cowboy trucker who is believed to be a serial killer in a neighboring state.

Not only are those two characters off the wall, so are all of the people that John encounters. There’s Randy, a guy who can’t let go of his ex-girlfriend so he continually kidnaps her and threatens to kill anyone that gets close to Ruthie (his ex). At one point John even has a stand-off with Randy, where John wields a gun with no bullets and Randy makes threats with a chainsaw, all the while with his ex tied up in the back of an open semi-trailer. Another interesting character is the dimwitted local who wears a hat with name on it (and doesn’t ever remember he does) and obsesses over how the government is building a bullet-train to shuttle people through the desert so they don’t find the aliens that are camping out there. These are only a small sampling of the zany cast! There are some people even more out of this world.

And speaking of aliens… it wouldn’t be that far fetched to think that John somehow ended up in an alien colony instead of a crazy, little town in the desert. Each scene is more surreal than the last and every new character a little more out there then the one before.

What makes the movie, as you may have been able to guess, are the characters and how different each of them are. The plot of the movie is interesting, but really this movie is a vehicle for the varied types of insanity put on display by the cast.

It’s almost Christmas time, so give yourself a cheap, little treat by picking up this criminally underappreciated movie. Don’t give any thought to the criticisms that some of the other critics out there have leveled against this movie. It really is a treat and well worth the $8 it’ll probably cost.

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