The Big Empty
The Big Empty

USA, 2003. Rated R. 92 minutes.

Cast: Jon Favreau, Rachael Leigh Cook, Joey Lauren Adams, Kelsey Grammer, Sean Bean, Adam Beach, Daryl Hannah, Bud Cort, Jon Gries, Gary Farmer, Brent Briscoe, Melora Walters
Writer: Steve Anderson
Original Music: Brain Tyler
Cinematography: Chris Manley
Producers: Doug Mankoff, Gregg L. Daniel, Andrew Spaulding, Keith Resnick
Director: Steve Anderson


Grade: F Review by Carlo Cavagna

I  could easily express my views on this film by handing you a wad of used toilet paper, but since that would be both impractical and disgusting, I am left to convey my impressions with mere words.

Basically, The Big Empty, from first-time (and hopefully last-time) feature writer/director Steve Anderson, is strangeness for the sake of strangeness. You have loser actor John Person (Jon Favreau) who, against the advice of his neighbor Grace (Joey Lauren Adams), accepts $27,000 from his weird other neighbor Neely (Bud Cort) to deliver a mysterious blue suitcase to a man called Cowboy (Sean Bean) at a seedy truck stop out in the desert. Obviously, John must not open the suitcase under pain of…something-or-other, and equally obviously, Cowboy does not show up at the appointed hour.

That's as much of the movie that makes any sense. The rest is plot design by dartboard. There's an oddball clerk at the motel, Elron (Jon Gries), who enters John's room unasked to deliver him morning coffee. There's a young vixen named Ruthie (Rachel Leigh Cook) who Spells Trouble. There's her irrationally jealous boyfriend (Adam Beach) who goes around waving a gun. There's Ruthie's mother Stella (Daryl Hannah), who doesn't do much of anything. There's a gregarious but suspicious FBI agent (Kelsey Grammer) who tracks John down in the desert. There's a decapitation. There's a blue bowling ball bag that's unlikely to contain a bowling ball, and a heckuva lot of blue suitcases. And there's much talk of aliens and kidnappings. Are they to be feared, or do they promise a better future for people leading aimless, pointless lives?
Jon Favreau
Jon Favreau is stuck in the desert in The Big Empty.

Who knows? Who cares? What is it about creepy stuff involving aliens and kidnappings that fascinates people so much, anyway? Ridiculous though the film Signs was, its director M. Night Shyamalan understands that stories about aliens, superheroes (Unbreakable), and ghosts (The Sixth Sense) persist because they represent archetypal tales that strike a chord, appealing to both our hopes and fears, not because aliens (or whatever) are cool. He builds up a sense of foreboding with his downbeat and evocative style, and he goes out on a limb by delivering a payoff. In The Big Empty, the buildup is incoherent, and there is no payoff.

If Anderson knows how everything fits together, which seems unlikely, he never divulges it. He's more interested in Twilight Zone-weirdness and X-Files-speculation than substantive storytelling. Granted, The Big Empty is supposed to be more a comedy than a supernatural drama or horror film, but the laughs are precious few. Elron makes the movie occasionally bearable with his bizarre comic relief, and a dirty little secret involving Vaseline, used to blackmail John, is a good recurring gag. Another recurring gag is that anyone touched by the aliens seems to favor bright baby blue contact lenses and apparel, except Cowboy, presumably because Sean Bean would look silly in baby blue leathers. (Now that would have been funny.)

That's it for the laughs. Jon Favreau, who looks like he's been auditioning for Hungry Man commercials, is no one's idea of a comic actor except when he's writing his own material as a straight man opposite his buddy Vince Vaughn. He's far too serious in this film. Joey Lauren Adams still sounds like Jessica Rabbit on helium, and there is something very wrong with her face. Unless she's vying for lead roles in plastic-surgery-gone-wrong documentaries, it seems unlikely her film career will last too much longer. The rest of the cast is okay, but not okay enough.

Some may praise The Big Empty as a poor man's David Lynch-meets-The X-Files, but it's more of a starving homeless man's David Lynch-meets-The X-Files. The film aspires to be a science fiction black comedy, but since there is almost no science fiction and little comedy, you are left with—dare I say it?—a big empty.

Review © November 2003 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2003 Artisan Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.

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