Imagine that ‘40s tough-guy detective Philip Marlowe tangled with a billionaire mad scientist, along with the usual quota of thugs, strippers and sarcastic cops. Now suppose that writer Erik Jendresen and director Tony Krantz decided – perhaps over a meal of magic mushrooms and moonshine – to hire a fancy-pants cinematographer, rewrite author Raymond Chandler, and offer up what they obviously hoped would make them film-noir Fellinis for the new century. That would be the apparent cultural intent of The Big Bang, a vividly photographed but otherwise inarticulate effort that offers in-jokes and stylistic novelties that might entertain trivia nuts seeking obscure references, but will otherwise addle anyone seeking coherence or consistency.
Let’s start with the obvious nods to author Chandler. The title reminds us of The Big Sleep, a Marlowe favorite. And the plot kicks off with a direct swipe from another Marlowe mystery, Farewell, My Lovely (also made under the title Murder, My Sweet). In each instance, a hulking goon barges in on our unsuspecting hero – played here by Antonio Banderas as a relatively prim gumshoe named Ned Cruz. The lovelorn lug needs to find his long-lost girlfriend, who promised to stay faithful while he was in prison.
Plot points proceed to pile up faster than you can keep with or care about. There’s an exotic dancer who likes to cite the laws of nuclear physics during sex. There’s a giant-sized Russian (the aforementioned lug) who lost his career, freedom and self-respect when he took a comically ill-advised dive for a ridiculously large bribe. Yes, there’s another subplot involving $30 million in missing diamonds.
Despite its irredeemable patchwork script, the movie has strong points for those who can admire a cameraman for bringing fresh flourishes in an effort to distract us from the inanities. Banderas looks lost, but it’s still fun to hear his Spanish accent applied to the hard-boiled lingo of our puzzled but determined protagonist. The rest of the cast doesn’t seem to understand much of what’s going on, either. But the sets, lighting and color schemes are inventive and occasionally outstanding. That’s good for the career of Shelly Johnson – who has already proven himself with Wolfman, Hidalgo and the upcoming Captain America: The First Avenger – but not so great for those who would rather be distracted by interesting characters and a story you can comprehend and maybe even believe.
The 1080/60p high-def presentation has a widescreen 2.40:1 transfer, presented in AVC at a bit rate that varies between 26 and 30 Mpbs. The visuals get a royally well-deserved Blu-Ray showcase. As we’ve already praised cinematographer Johnson, so we must compliment the crew that captures the scenic nuances with elegant contrasts in color and brightness levels. When it’s dark and shadowy, you get flashes of vintage style, and some of the glowing landscapes and neon-lit interiors are flashy beyond the call of duty. One extended shot of Cruz cruising into the sunset becomes a phosphorescent piece of trippiness that helps us forget we’re listening to dull voiceover exposition. It also shows us what young filmmakers can do with lively imaginations on a limited budget. Next time, a better screenplay will help a lot.
The English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 at 48Hz is technically adequate for an undemanding soundtrack. Music cues seem to hit the right levels as needed. As for the dialog – you can decipher the words even when they don’t make much sense. Subtitles come in English and Spanish.
Audio commentary by producer-director Tony Krantz and co-producer Reece Pearson: Frankly, I enjoyed the commentary more than the regular feature. Krantz is particularly open about how he prepared and accomplished an admittedly complex project, and Pearson brings the sort of trivia and name-dropping that enhances our appreciation without seeming pretentious. The guys may not have made a great film, but they gave it a lot of honest effort, and their words make us root for them to come back with more success.
Lex Parsimoniae: The Making of The Big Bang (19:56): Chatty behind-the-scenes featurette that tries to explain all the deeper meanings behind its convoluted homages and pseudo-scientific story lines. Some interesting technical points might be useful to students of the craft.
Extended scenes (4:11): A James Van Der Beek rant was cut from an early scene, so here it is. Then there’s a 30-second outtake of the Russian prizefighter, for no apparent reason.
Trailers: Five of them, none for this movie. Kill the Irishman looks like fun.
When the camera work and color schemes are the best parts of the film, and when Sam Elliott himself can’t salvage the climactic moments, it’s time to go back to the real thing. I need a Bogart fix, stat.