Literature / Big Trouble

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A 1999 novel by Dave Barry. Set in Miami, it satirizes the Crime and Punishment genre in fiction. While the novel starts out as a Slice of Life look into the daily business of various quirky characters, things soon take a turn for drama with the introduction of Russian arms dealers and a suitcase nuke.

The book was turned into a movie in 2001, but the release was delayed by almost a year because of the attacks at the World Trade Center in New York, New York and the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia in 2001 and the film plot dealing with hoodlums hijacking a plane. The Film of the Book was directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and stars Tim Allen, Rene Russo, Stanley Tucci, Tom Sizemore, Johnny Knoxville, Dennis Farina, Janeane Garofalo, Patrick Warburton, Zooey Deschanel, and Ben Foster. Also features memorable appearances by Omar Epps, Jason Lee, and Andy Richter.


Provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Henry and Leonard may be professional killers, but Henry in particular is well-spoken, exceedingly polite, and always tries to solve conflicts peacefully before resorting to violence. Compounded further by the fact that everyone they target in the movie is an Asshole Victim if there ever was one.
  • The Alleged Car: Elliot's oft-mocked Geo. Largely subverted, though, as it performs well enough throughout the whole movie and never lets its occupants down when it matters.
  • Arms Dealer: Ivan "John" Chukov and Leonid "Leo" Yudanski started out as Military Moonshiners in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Grzkjistan, and branched out into selling off military hardware for American dollars as the Soviet Union started to collapse. They moved to South Florida in the late 1990s and set up the Jolly Jackal bar as a front for their arms dealership, for which Miami turned out to be an excellent market.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Arthur Herk gets shot at, robbed, kidnapped, handcuffed to a shelf unit, kneed in the groin, thrown through a glass door by a cop, sprayed by a hallucinogenic toad, and is last seen dragging said shelf down a dark, deserted street, pursued by his visions of a demonic Martha Stewart. Good thing he's an utter Jerkass and the whole thing is Played for Laughs.
    • There's also Bruce, Elliot's client, also a large Jerkass. He has his finger broken by Henry to teach him some manners, then he is carjacked by the FBI agents when he refuses to let them through a traffic jam.
  • Author Avatar: Elliot had the same job as Dave Barry before he quit, and is made into the movie's main protagonist rather than just part of the ensemble.
  • Big, Friendly Dog: Roger.
  • Better as Friends: Matt and Jenny, according to the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue.
  • Bowdlerization: The Movie. Which is unfortunate, since many of the book's funniest scenes don't translate well to a PG-13 rating.
    • Likely done because Mood Whiplash on such a grand scale probably doesn't translate well to the screen. The book is a rapid-fire comedy that suddenly turns dark and disturbing for bits near the end before going right back to comedy. The movie just goes with comedy all the way.
  • Break the Haughty: Arthur gets this treatment in spades.
  • Brick Joke: Loads of them - they make up about one third of the movie's gags. The rest consists of Running Gags and snark, all woven together to form one intricate sequence of non-stop comedy.
  • Cardboard Prison: The contractor for a prison security system is better at bribing public officials than at designing prison doors that don't open automatically during a severe thunderstorm. The contractor is also good at finding scapegoats for massive prison breaks.
  • Catch-Phrase: Leonard's "Got that right".
  • Cluster F-Bomb: The book more than The Movie.
  • Comedic Underwear Exposure: The female cop has her shirt ripped open, revealing a red bustier.
  • Consummate Professional: Henry, the smarter of the two hit men. When his partner is being strangled to death by a python, Henry takes the time to calmly assess the situation, realizes that just shooting the snake in a crowded area will probably result in someone getting hurt by mistake, gets down on the floor so he can fire up through the snake's head and pulls the trigger. And then talks himself out of being arrested when two FBI agents pick that moment to turn up and recognize him.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Played for Laughs, of course.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Arthur Herk.
    • The entire management of Penultimate.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Everyone with an IQ above room temperature will drop some snarky remarks at some point, but Jenny is easily the master of it.
  • "Die Hard" on an X: Used in the film. "We have a Die Hard situation forming in the kitchen..."
  • Dogs Are Dumb: Roger. Hey, it's a frequent theme for Dave Barry.
  • Double Entendre: Jenny's and Matt's dialogue during their second "Killer" session is absolutely loaded with them.
  • Failsafe Failure: All the doors of a Miami prison were made with over-the-counter garage door openers. When someone drove by and pressed their own garage door opener, every cell in the prison opened.
  • Fat Bastard: Bruce, Elliot's obnoxious client.
  • Funny Background Event: When the feds and Monica arrive at the airport and start roughing up the obnoxious security guard there, a PA announcement can be heard in the background asking the owner of the yellow Hummer (the one they just hijacked) to remove the car from the main entrance.
  • Groin Attack: Roger (the dog) greets every newcomer by molesting their crotch. Arthur later suffers one courtesy of Snake that leaves him a whimpering wreck for the rest of the scene.
  • Incredibly Obvious Bomb: Inverted in the book, in which nobody thinks that the bomb looks like a bomb.
    "It's a garbage disposal."
    • The film continues to run with this by using exclusively point-of-view shots looking up at the people examining it... until the scene where it's finally opened and accidentally armed at the airport. It's painfully obvious (to everyone but the characters) that it's a miniature warhead with a timer attached.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: When Jack is questioned by Walter and Monica:
    Monica: Sir, have you been drinking?
    Jack: Of course not.
    [his whiskey bottle crashes to the ground]
  • Intercourse with You: "I Want Your Sex Pootie" by the Seminal Fluids.
  • Jerkass: Arthur Herk, "one of the few Floridians who was not confused when he voted for Pat Buchanan."
    • Bruce (Elliot's client at the ad agency) and Elliot's former boss at the newspaper also qualify. Not to mention Snake and Eddy.
  • Like Brother and Sister: The way Matt and Jenny feel about each other in the end.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Even the movie poster needs a diagram. It helps that characters are almost always seen in pairs.
  • Male Gaze: Invoked every time Jenny, Matt and Andrew meet somewhere. She explicitly warns them to stop staring at her boobs and ass, which of course does nothing to deter them from doing so anyway.
  • Meaningful Name: Would-be manly man Jack Pendick.
  • Mood Whiplash: After Snake takes several main characters hostage, their plight is suddenly played completely straight and gets pretty disturbing when he starts threatening rape. These threats don't happen in The Movie.
  • Not Blood Siblings: Subverted.
  • Only in Florida: The hitmen mention how certain things they encounter in Miami (like rabid, crazy-scary Gator fans) are found Only in Florida.
  • Our Product Sucks: Played with. One character's in advertising and designs a logo for a beer company called Hammerhead. He puts a picture of a Hammerhead with a caption saying, "Ugly Fish. Good Beer." (In The Movie, this was changed to an eel.) The client hates it, and the ad changes to a more traditional beer commercial with models. The client's suggested slogan? "Get hammered with Hammerhead".
  • Phony Veteran: Snake and Eddie, for brief and unsuccessful busking.
  • Police Are Useless: Or at least Officer Walter Kramitz is (in the movie more than the book).
  • Professional Killer: Henry and Leonard.
  • Rapid-Fire Comedy: There's literally not a minute in this movie without something hilarious happening.
  • Running Gag: By the truckload.
    • "Was that a goat?"
    • The Annoyed Radio Host and the Gator Fan will be speaking anytime the radio turns on.
    • Elliot drives a Geo. And it will be noted/mocked constantly.
    • The hitmen tripping and losing their rifle one way or another.
    • Henry's face getting abused by his rental car's semi-automatic seatbelt.
    • Someone cracking wise about stuff they learned from watching the Discovery/Travel Channel.
    • TVs getting destroyed by gunfire.
    • Roger molesting everyone by biting/sniffing their crotch. Repeatedly.
    • The Incredibly Obvious Bomb being mistaken for a garbage disposal.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: A couple are driving by arguing on whether or not they should move away from Florida. Then they encounter Kramitz and Herk chained to an entertainment center, Kramitz yelling at Herk that his dog is not Elizabeth Dole, nor does she want to eat his soul.
    • After suffering a number of indignities and idiots in their time in Florida, the last straw comes for the two hitmen when, stuck in a traffic jam listening to two morons have a never-ending back-and-forth argument on the radio about the Gators, a goat walks past their car.
  • Sex for Product: Elliot and his ad for Hammerhead turns into this. "You have a guy in a boat with a girl, she's in a bikini, she has big tits, they're on a boat, and they're getting hammered! With Hammerhead! The feeling of this ad is, somebody's gonna get laid! In the background swimming around is a shark! The girl has REALLY big tits!" Poorly photoshopped-in really big tits, as it turns out, not that the client can tell.
  • Take That!: Snake shoots a television that's playing a Jerry Springer episode. Another character comments that it's about time.
  • Taught by Television: One of the feds learned a lot from the Discovery Channel and the Travel Channel.
  • Those Two Bad Guys: Snake and Eddy.
    • Also John and Leo (real names Ivan and Leonid), former Russian Scroungers who moved up to gun smuggling.
    • Technically Henry and Leonard, who are after all hitmen. But their target in this movie is a would-be Asshole Victim and Henry and Leonard themselves, while not exactly good or nice, are among the Only Sane Men of the movie.
  • Toad Licking: Why Arthur spends a significant portion of the book believing that a politician's wife wants to eat his soul. (Technically it was an Accidental Kiss, but the effect's the same.)
  • Too Dumb to Live: The two thieves are told to turn on their "garbage disposal" at airport security and promptly do so. It never dawns on them that they just activated a time bomb. It's even more blatant in the movie, where the countdown starts before they even close the lid.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Puggy really likes his Fritos. It's apparently the primary reason why he travelled all the way from Boston to Miami.
  • Vote Early, Vote Often: Puggy is paid to do this.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Both in the book and the movie.
  • Worthy Opponent: The Enemy Toad, to Roger.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: The book pokes fun at Elliot for driving a Kia. The movie changed this to an already-out-of-production Geo.

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