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USA 1986
Directed by
John Cassavetes
93 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Big Trouble

Other than the presence of Peter Falk and a scene involving some Chinese labourers (see A Woman Under the Influence, 1974), John Cassavetes’ last film bears no trace of the pioneering auteurist sensibility on which his reputation now rests  

Alan Arkin plays Leonard Hoffman, a Los Angeles insurance salesman wondering how he can afford to send his three musically-gifted sons (triplets in fact) to Yale when he is summoned to the Beverly Hills mansion of Blanche Rickey (Beverly D'Angelo) a negligee’d sex-pot who tells Leonard that her husband, Steve (Falk) has one week to live and hasn't renewed the policy on the house. A desperate Leonard hatches a scheme in which Blanche will receive $5million as long as they rig Steve's death to look like he has fallen from a train, an act which Leonard convinces himself is no more than euthanasia.

An absurdist reworking of Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity (1944) with Arkin and D'Angelo in the Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck roles and Charles Durning as Edward G. Robinson’s claims investigator, Big Trouble is a sorely under-rated comedy that only in its latter stages with the introduction of a group of incompetent terrorists loses it edge and gets a bit ratty in the way of so many Hollywood films looking for a way to tie up their stories. Prior to that there are many amusing moments particularly thanks to Falk’s dead-pan performance (one of the funniest scenes has Falk offering Arkin his favorite drink from Norway, a rare sardine liqueur) although all the cast contribute to the enjoyment.

Although the film bombed it would make a good double bill with the commercially much more successful late 80's comedy, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

FYI: Big Trouble was intended as a follow-up to The In-Laws, the successful 1979 Arkin-Falk comedy, written by Andrew Bergman who is here has a writer's credit as Warren Bogle. He directed about a third of the film before he left the production and Falk convinced Cassavetes to take over. It has been suggested that Elaine May, writer-director of Ishtar (1987) had a hand in the script and although the two films do share something of the same absurdist humour  this has been denied by the studio, Columbia.




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