BIG EMPTY, THE (director/writer: Steve Anderson; cinematographer: Chris Manley; editor: Scott Scalise; music: Brian Tyler; cast: Jon Favreau (John Person), Rachael Leigh Cook (Ruthie), Sean Bean (Cowboy), Daryl Hannah (Stella), Joey Lauren Adams (Grace), Adam Beach (Randy), Kelsey Grammer (Agent Banks), Gary Farmer (Indian Bob), Jon Gries (Elron), Brent Briscoe (Dan), Bud Cort (Neely), Melora Walters (Candy); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating:R; producer: Gregg L. Daniel; Lions Gate Entertainment; 2003)

"I found the sicko humor enjoyable enough."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

Writer-director Steve Anderson in his feature fictional film debut (previous work was in documentaries) helms this quirky unpretentious indie dark comedy, that is possibly after The Big Lebowski audience and those who favor weird cult films. It desperately tries to spoof losers, actors, cowboys, serial killers, believers in alien abductors and those stuck without any culture in America's wasteland. It's second-rate satire, with a pulse on being a film noir blended together with a spoof on alien sci-fi flicks and a David Lynch type of experimental film. Some might find this nonsense harmless fun, others might just find it dumb. I found the sicko humor enjoyable enough if you let your hair down to take it lightly, but I realize it's not a film for everyone.

Struggling unemployed L.A. actor John Person (Jon Favreau), once a star on a sitcom, is in big credit card debt and therefore accepts a crazy job offer from his weird nerdy neighbor Neely (Bud Cort), at Hollywood's landmark Alto Nido Apartments, to deliver a mysterious blue suitcase to a man called Cowboy (Sean Bean) at a remote truck stop out in the desert of Baker, California, a halfway point to Las Vegas and a gateway to Death Valley. For this task John will be paid upon completion of his assignment $27,000. The suitcase is locked, and he's ordered not to open it and to guard it with the loaded gun he is given. His neighbor girlfriend Grace (Joey Lauren Adams) urges him not to take the offer because she's suspicious that it sounds too-good-to-be-true. But he takes the offer because he's desperate.

Cowboy-a trucker in a cowboy outfit, a black cowboy hat and black leather duster-is spotted in the area by the seen-it-all laid-back bar owner Stella (Daryl Hannah), but he fails to keep the appointment in John's seedy Hawaiian themed motel. As John hangs around the bar with Stella and at the motel with its eccentric manager Elron (Jon Gries) and his blue-collar pal Dan (Brent Briscoe) waiting for Cowboy, while the local boys are on the lookout for aliens, he meets a number of threatening odd characters. For one, the violent psycho Randy (Adam Beach), the jealous former boyfriend of Stella's adopted coquettish daughter Ruthie (Rachael Leigh Cook); is grilled by a gregarious but menacing square FBI agent (Kelsey Grammer) about 75 missing persons in the area in one year; and finds things with Cowboy, when they finally hook-up, dangerously problematical. John also learns that his benefactor in L.A. has his head severed and it was deposited in his bowling bag that he's carrying around.

None of it struck me as particularly witty, but it was funny because it was so wacky. It seemed to be throwing darts against the wall looking to be weird at all costs and eventually for something to say that was pointed, as it raises the question: Was my life worth living? With its alien abduction agenda and many other nonsensical incidents thrown in, it returns eventually to its theme that there's an emptiness inside many modern Americans and the surrounding desert reflects that as "the big empty." That's where some believe the aliens bury those they abduct--who are willing victims believing they going to paradise. The Big Empty offers an enigmatic response to all those leading a life of quiet desperation and looking for easy (empty) answers. Not bad gravitas for such a silly film, as it follows through on a Thoreau saying and give its titular desert a metaphorical meaning.

REVIEWED ON 5/1/2010       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"