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Thursday, May 19, 2011

THE BIG BANG -- DVD review by porfle

A movie that definitely gets better as it goes along, THE BIG BANG (2011) starts out like a shallow film noir imitation and ends up pretty much living up to its title, especially after the science-fiction elements kick in.

Antonio Banderas is private eye Ned Cruz, a world-weary denizen of L.A.'s sleazy underbelly who doesn't especially like his job.  One night a human gorilla named Anton (Robert Maillet) enters Ned's office and hires him to find a stripper named Lexie Persimmon.  Anton's been exchanging torrid love letters with Lexie while serving a life sentence for murder, and now that he inexplicably finds himself a free man, he's determined to hook up with his dream girl.  But what seems like a routine missing person case leads Ned into a tangled web of murder, deceit, and nuclear physics.

The look of THE BIG BANG is an uneasy combination of real settings and SIN CITY-style green screen.  This gives much of the film an artificial veneer that detracts from the grittiness and sometimes resembles a chic modeling shoot lit with various shades of neon.  Director Tony Krantz also uses Dutch angles in roughly every other shot, which, along with the candy-coated visuals, gives it even more of an unreal comic-book look.  Cruz's road trip through the desert to New Mexico, where Lexie Persimmon's trail seems to lead, is an eye-pleasing sequence which features one of those classic Burma Shave advertisements as a nice retro touch.

Once we arrive in New Mexico and meet Sam Elliott's character, former surf bum turned billionaire Simon Kestral, the plot takes a more fanciful turn that's more in line with the film's graphic-novel design.  Here, we find that Kestral is obsessed with finding the "God particle" via an immense super-collider constructed beneath his desert estate, with which he hopes to recreate the Big Bang itself. 

The less "fantastical" interrogation room scenes, which frame the flashbacks with Cruz's standard noir-style voiceover, are some of the best.  You really can't go too wrong putting Banderas in a room with the likes of Thomas Kretschmann, William Fichtner, and Delroy Lindo playing hardnosed cops, and giving them plenty of tough-guy dialogue to chew on as Cruz is mercilessly grilled for information.  Fichtner especially enjoys his role as the violent Poley, who hates Cruz with a passion.  Cruz, meanwhile, bides his time and waits for an opening, keeping his story interesting enough to string the crooked cops along while he figures out what they're really up to.

Banderas is solid as Cruz, not too broad or too subtle, and his modern-day private eye has all the prerequisite wary cynicism and cool of his classic counterparts.  Many of his offhand jokes are groan-worthy, but his constant putdowns of the volatile Poley make up for it.  Elliot is well-cast as Kestral, whose unlimited wealth enables him to make his most far-out acid fantasies a reality.

Sienna Guillory plays his gorgeous-but-neglected wife Julie and Jimmi Simpson is his flaky chief physicist Niels Geck, both of whom harbor deep secrets crucial to the case.  Autumn Reeser is appealing as perky waitress Fay Neman, a space-case whose passion for physics adds unexpected zest to her sexual encounter with Cruz.  Snoop Dogg and the venerable Bill Duke turn up along the way as a porn filmmaker and a jazz drummer, respectively.

The secret of Lexie Persimmon is revealed in a slickly-photographed suspense sequence involving Cruz, Julie, Geck, and an out-of-control Anton when the smitten gorilla bursts onto the scene looking for his soulmate.  Finally, Kestral's experiment reaches its zenith just as the business between Cruz and the three cops comes to a head, resulting in a wild CGI-laden finale that I found fairly exhilarating.  Strangely enough, the story would've worked even if the sci-fi elements had been omitted altogether, but it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras include a "making of" featurette, a commentary with Krantz and co-producer Reece Pearson, and some extended scenes.  The original score by Johnny Marr is very good.

If you don't get into the "neon-noir" look and feel of THE BIG BANG you'll probably never take the story seriously enough to care about any of it.  But as a light, often amusing and sometimes exciting action-fantasy with an occasional touch of the old private eye flicks, it definitely has its moments.

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