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‘Big Trouble’ is not as funny as it should be

Dave Barry is a funny guy. The syndicated humor columnist for The Miami Herald, who makes observations about things that either confuse or infuriate him, can write with the best of them. But the movie adapted from his book of rants about annoying topics ranging from Martha Stewart taking over the world to obnoxious University of Florida football fans is inherently flawed. A string of hilarious Sunday columns doesn’t necessarily make for a hilarious film.

Big Trouble is about an executive for an ammunitions manufacturing company (Stanley Tucci) who is about to get whacked by a hitman (Dennis Farina) who doesn’t like automatic car seatbelts. When the exec gets wind of his bosses trying to take him out, he seeks out a missile from two shady Russians. All the while, an ex-Miami Herald columnist divorcee (Tim Allen) and the executive’s wife (Rene Russo) are having an affair as a result of their respective son and daughter playing a practical joke. But just when things get hairy, two scrubs (Tom Sizemore and Johnny Knoxville) try to board a plane with a nuclear bomb they believe to be filled with diamonds. That is, if two Miami police officers (Jeanine Garofalo and Patrick Warburton) and a pair of renegade FBI agents (Omar Epps and Heavy D) don’t stop them. Oh yeah, a Brazilian housemaid and a bum (Jason Lee) with a fetish for Fritos are also thrown into the mix.

You’d think with the impressive cast that the movie would be a success no matter what. But while many parts of it are funny, there’s a reason stand-up comedy routines are not made into feature films (notwithstanding Eddie Murphy’s Raw).

However, the controversial scenes involving incompetent airport security guards and federal agents evoking special executive privileges are especially funny in a post-Sept. 11 atmosphere. (It was the controversy that moved the film’s original release date from Sept. 14 to more than six months later.)

It’s almost as if Barry tried to think of the most inane proposition possible and came up with federal agents searching private property and arresting people without warrants. Who would have thought John Ashcroft would ever be appointed attorney general, and that would actually become the norm?

While some of the humor is Florida-specific, such as idiotic sports talk radio, pompous Gator fans and a truck full of goats being unloaded onto the highway, it’s still pretty funny.

The problem with the film comes with the running jokes that don’t hit after the third time.

Yes, we get the fact that everybody watches the Discovery channel and it’s pretty humorous – the first time – when people that you wouldn’t expect to know the difference between a frog and a toad explain the difference.

Yes, everybody reads Martha Stewart’s magazine Living and watches her cooking show. But when you put her head on a perpetually crotch-sniffing dog as a hallucination gag, it’s clear that you basically don’t like her.

Big Trouble is a movie with good intentions and very funny parts. But, humor columns are funnier.

Big Trouble is Rated PG-13

Opens today