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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 the September 11 attacks happened ten days before the original release date, and because of 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.


Not to be confused with the 1986 film of the same name directed by John Cassavetes and starring Alan Arkin and Peter Falk.

Provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: While watching the events unfold in the Hurk residence, Henry at one point refers to Snake and Eddie as 'Moron Number One' and 'Moron Number Two'. The gangster played by Denis Farina in Midnight Run also used these exact terms to refer to two of his employees.
  • Adaptational Heroism: In the book Walter Kramitz is harrassing his partner despite both being married, and only does right things for very selfish reasons. Although in the movie he's still married and still hits on his partner, he does get a substantial attitude upgrade to the point of being dutifully heroic.
  • Adaptational Wimp: Henry. The film omits a scene where he shoots a python constricting Leonard, quickly yet carefully finding an angle to shoot the snake where the bullet will go through the python's body and not hit Leonard or anyone standing off to the side.
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  • 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. (And even then, only the minimum necessary amount of 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.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Elliot is considered one by his teenage son, although it's limited to the kind of car he drives and taste in music.
  • 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 (when he's shot at, everyone in the room with him as he's complaining about it feels an emotional connection with the shooter, including the cops).
    • 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.
    • Officer Walter Kramitz, but only in the book — an incompetent cop and an obnoxious jerk stalking his partner despite both being married. The film tones down his incompetence and eliminates jerkishness, making him a Butt-Monkey.
  • 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 Film of the Book. It was 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.
  • Bring the Anchor Along: When Walter and Arthur end up handcuffed to a large metal entertainment unit, they end up dragging the damn thing through the house and using it to crash through a glass sliding door. An mid-credits scene shows Arthur, still cuffed to the thing, dragging it down the street.
  • 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 (subcontractors, in this case).
  • Catchphrase: Leonard's "Got that right".
  • Cluster F-Bomb: The book more than The Film of the Book.
  • Comedic Underwear Exposure: The female cop has her shirt ripped open, revealing a red bustier.
  • Composite Character:
    • Monica is combined with Detective Baker (the cop who accompanies the FBI agents in the book).
    • Elliot's obnoxious client Bruce, the restaurant customer Henry injures for smoking, and the owner of the car Greer and Seitz commandeer are combined into one Butt-Monkey in the movie.
  • 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's job entire job consists of giving bribe money to people. And he can't even do that properly, as being a compulsive gambler he also takes a little money from the bribes, "with the hope of the true loser that it wouldn't be noticed".
    • The entire management of Penultimate, which was in fact founded for the sole purpose of taking over Cuba once Castro died.
  • Cowboy Cop: Agents Seitz and Greer think nothing of shooting an unarmed criminal in the foot to get information or yanking an obnoxious motorist through his window to commander his car. However, they claim that they actually are legally allowed to do that thanks to a recent executive order.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Everyone with an IQ above room temperature (so maybe half the cast) 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.
  • Evil, Inc.: Mostly Type 3, but flirting with Type 2. (And in the novel, Type 1.) Penultimate Corporation (Penultra in the film) is mostly a construction company, but as corrupt as the day is long, willfully incompetent to the point of cartoonishness, but so well connected that they still keep raking in contracts. In the novel, Penultimate's main shadow goal is to overthrow Castro. The film dumps this angle and turns up the evil caricature to the max. How? Well, for starts, there's an M1919 machine gun on the boardroom table.
  • Failsafe Failure: All the doors of a Miami prison were made with over-the-counter garage door openers. When a thunderstorm struck (hardly a rare event in Miami) after the jail went online, every door in the prison opened.
  • Fat and Skinny: Agent Greer is about a hundred pounds heavier than his partner, Agent Seitz.
  • 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 from perennial Asshole Victim Bruce) 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.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: When Arthur confronts his boss at Penultimate over the fact that the bosses "are planning to have [him] whacked!", the boss points out that not only are those decisions made way above his pay-grade, but that in stealing money from a massively corrupt corporation that is only transparently a cover for some kind of massive criminal operation, Arthur probably should have seen this coming as a possibility.
  • Like Brother and Sister: The way Matt and Jenny feel about each other in the end especially what with their parents getting married.
  • 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.
  • Mama Bear: Anne is very protective of Jenny, tackling Matt when he runs in to shoot her (with a squirt gun).
  • 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 Film of the Book
    • Also the book as a whole when compared to Dave Barry's previous work. It's much more serious (and the comedy that is there much darker) than his normal brand of slapstick, funny observations, and dad jokes.
  • Neighbourhood-Friendly Gangsters: In the film, arms dealers Leonid and Ivan sponsor a girls' softball team.
  • Never Hurt an Innocent: Henry and Leonard don't try to kill Puggy after he sees their faces and wait until Anne and Jenny aren't in the line of fire before shooting at Arthur.
  • Not Blood Siblings: Subverted (at least in the book, the ending of the movie is more ambiguous). Matt and Jenny have a strong mutual attraction, but the epilogue states that after Matt's dad marries Jenny's mom, dating feels weirder for them, and they eventually decide they're Better as Friends.
  • Only in Florida:
    • The hitmen mention how certain things they encounter in Miami (like rabid, crazy-scary Gator fans) are found Only in Florida.
    • At the end of both book and movie, they are said by the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue to have sworn off ever taking a job in Florida again.
  • 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 Film of the Book, 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".
  • Overreacting Airport Security: Zig-zagged at the climax: the security officer in charge of doing baggage checks completely overlooks the fact that the "garbage disposal" that Snake and Eddie the Obviously Evil Stupid Crooks are carrying is actually an (even more incredibly obvious) small nuclear warhead and also doesn't notices that they brought a gun with them (they passed it by the metal detector with the other metal objects on the regular tray when she wasn't looking) and makes them move along out of annoyance. But when when Officer Kramitz (who is without a badge because of the weird things that have happened so far) arrives to the main security office to tell the officers to be on the lookout for said crooks, out come the gloves and the strip-searching (the event is bad enough that Kramitz ends up streaking through the airport trying to get away from them and decides to become a stripper).
  • Planes, Trains, and Imbeciles: Inverted in Big Trouble, where the airport worker (a single mother working a tiring job for a dubious company possibly about to be shut down by the FBI, with a sick baby and a broken-down car) is portrayed sympathetically. When Snake (accompanied to two other creeps and a young woman clearly no in her right mind) just throws money at her to speed things up, she takes the money and then some for her garage and babysitter bills, but lets them through, even after Snake just tells her all four of them are named John Smith.
  • 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. The couple takes off, and the husband emerges from his silence to tell his wife to call the movers.
    • 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.
  • Smug Smiler: In the film, the audience is introduced to Arthur Herk via a freeze-frame taken at a point when he has an incredibly self-satisfied look on his face.
  • The Stoic: Ivan and Leonid barely show any emotion, whether they're conducting business or being held at gunpoint.
  • Stupid Crooks: Snake and Eddy are full-on, flat-out brain-dead dumb and lucky as hell. At one point Jenny (who has been taken hostage) snarks that they should "plead not guilty under pretense of being stupid" if they ever end up in court.
  • Take That!:
    • Snake shoots a television that's playing a Jerry Springer episode. Another character comments that it's about time.
    • Among John and Leo's many customers for illegal weapons in the Miami market are hunters "who, judging by the rifles they bought, were after deer that traveled inside armored personnel carriers", and professional drug cartel enforcers "who wanted guns that shot thousands of rounds per minute to compensate for the fact that their aim was terrible."
    • The famously chaotic Miami International Airport: "It was the standard airport-security operation, which meant it appeared to have been designed to hassle law-abiding passengers just enough to reassure them, while at the same time providing virtually no protection against criminals with an IQ higher than celery."
  • Taught by Television: One of the feds learned a lot from the Discovery Channel and the Travel Channel.
  • Toad Licking: Spotlighted by the author, who briefly explains the cane toad's proliferation throughout South Florida, and notes, "some people have been known to lick these toads to get high. Sometimes these people die. You could argue they deserve to." Also why Arthur spends a significant portion of the book believing that his dog now has the head of Elizabeth Dole and wants to eat his soul. (Technically it was an Accidental Kiss, but the effect's the same.) In the film version, this is changed to Martha Stewart.
  • 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. Snake, in particular, is so convinced that the contents of the suitcase are his ticket to "kingpin" status, that he insists on holding on to it as it is pushed out of an airplane and plunges with it into the ocean, with less than a minute left on the timer.
  • 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. The people at the electoral booth don't care in the slightest.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Played for Laughs when (due to Walter's company Cutting Corners) a detention center's automatic cell doors open during a lightning storm, "leaving it up to the prisoners to decide, on the honor system, whether they wished to remain in jail. As it happened, 132 prisoners, out of a possible 137, decided they did not wish to remain in jail.''