DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
BIG LEBOWSKI,THE (director: Joel Coen; screenwriters: Joel & Ethan Coen; cinematographer: Roger Deakins; editor: Roderick Jaynes; cast: Jeff Bridges (The Dude), John Goodman (Walter Sobchak ), Julianne Moore (Maude Lebowski), Peter Stormare (Nihilist), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Brandt), David Huddleston (The Big Lebowski), Steve Buscemi (Donny), Sam Elliott (The Stranger), John Turturro (Jesus Quintana), Tara Reid (Bunny Lebowski); Runtime: 127; Gramercy Pictures; 1997)

 
"The comedy here is sometimes so sharp that you could roll in the aisle with laughter and not seem any odder than the characters you see onscreen."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is a man's film, for the kind of a man who is lost in his sense of being a man and in the nostalgia of the '70s drug scene. The women all have minor parts and are viewed as sex objects or conniving harlots. It's the 1990s and we're in laid-back L.A. and there's a character called Lebowski (Bridges), who likes to be called "The Dude." His two other bowling pals, Walter (Goodman) and Donny (Buscemi), are also like him dysfunctional. The plot unfolds into a series of mistaken identity scenes and over-the-top comedy; by mistaking "The Dude" for another Lebowski, a wealthy cripple-- the story takes on the weird humor of the Coen Brothers, as they build a case for this likable California bum to get satisfaction over his pride being hurt. The Dude plays out a very funny fantasy role, spoofing the Raymond Chandler private detective type of stories in the Hollywood of the '40s.

You see, intruders piss the Dude off when they piss on his rug as they question him. So he goes to the rich Lebowski (David Huddleston) and asks payment for his rug's damage, using the logic that it is this guy's fault why it happened, even if he didn't do it; after all, he does have the same last name and this mistake wouldn't have happened if that was not the case. So you see the direction this film is going, it is cartoonish in characterization, with ridiculous dialogue, plenty of zany characters, and no discernible plot. Stars make cameo appearances and do their shticks, even if it adds nothing to the plot. The John Turturro one, where he plays the flaming Mexican drag-queen, is particularly funny. The absurd story goes on with the Big Lebowski hiring "The Dude" to be a private detective for him and get back his kidnapped wife Bunny (Tara). But since "The Dude" is just being set-up it really doesn't matter that he is not qualified for the job, even if he does take this job to be a serious one and his dim observations of things are humorously abetted by his friends even dimmer observation of things, which makes things really dim.

The comedy here is sometimes so sharp that you could roll in the aisle with laughter and not seem any odder than the characters you see onscreen. The John Goodman character, of the hot-tempered, ex-soldier from 'Nam, is hysterically funny. In one bit, he tells one of his bowling opponents, "This is not 'Nam, this is bowling. There are rules." Everything about John Goodman's character will apply to his tour of duty there, whether or not it is relevant to the situation or not.

It is not as good a film overall as Fargo, but it is funny enough to be a minor work in the Coen brothers continuing attack on our sitcom culture. It also added a nice touch by having Sam Eliott with his rich melodic voice, garbed as a cowboy, do the voice-over, adding touches of inane wisdom throughout. In his wrap-up statement about the Dude's tale he says in mock seriousness: "It was a purty good story, don't you think?"

REVIEWED ON 7/20/98                GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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