Hawaiian punch

'Big Bounce' sticks to shallow end, but is splashy fun.

By , Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor

'The Big Bounce" is the kind of throwaway caper comedy that's usually released in the summer, aimed at a leisure-addled youth audience. In a stroke of ingenuity, Warner Bros. is opening it in the dog days of winter - just the time for snow-pestered moviegoers to enjoy its sunstruck Hawaiian atmosphere.

Owen Wilson plays Jack, a likable con artist who's thinking about going straight. He takes a job, but finds himself at loose ends again after a fracas with his foreman. A few plot twists later, he's tending a resort owned by a local judge (Morgan Freeman) and eyeing a pretty woman who seems interested in him. A few more plot twists later, she's lured him into planning a burglary that could make him rich - or land him in jail again.

Wilson took me by surprise as an actor. I thought he made a terrific screen debut in "Bottle Rocket," a 1996 comedy about would-be crooks too mild- mannered for that profession. But the quality that grabbed me about him - a sort of inspired blandness - didn't seem a sure-fire route to Hollywood stardom.

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He still has that inspired blandness- - the doughy face, the dangly mouth, the whiny voice - but he's proved his versatility in pictures like "Armageddon" and "Behind Enemy Lines" while refining his humor skills in Wes Anderson comedies. Wilson is the main reason to see "The Big Bounce," where he's perfect as a reasonably smart guy who often seems to have no idea what he's getting into.

The other reasons are a solid supporting cast, including Willie Nelson and Harry Dean Stanton, and snappy editing that gets the story - no deeper than the shallow end of a Honolulu pool - over in under 90 minutes. Last but far from least is the colorful Hawaiian setting, photographed to postcard perfection.

The story comes from a novel by Elmore Leonard, who has four more books in development right now. Like earlier adaptations of his tales, including "Get Shorty" and "Jackie Brown," this one often takes a low road to ticket sales, spicing its action with titillation it doesn't really need. This aside, it's just the ticket for cold-weather viewing.

Rated PG-13; contains sex and violence.

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