The Big Empty

Director: Steve Anderson

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

John Person (Jon Favreau), failed actor in L.A., has a couple weird neighbors, including good buddy Grace (Joey Lauren Adams, who is rather Meg-Tilly-like), & tolerated weirdo Neely (Bud Cort of Harold & Maud). The Big Empty (2003) is a multiple-meaning title -- an empty suitcase, the empty desert, the empty sky, & the empty lives of lonely people.

The Big EmptyBy some obscure manner John seems to have been "set up" by the only half-rational Neely. Neely is for all the world can see a squirrelly little weirdo in a cheap apartment with no value or influences anywhere in the world. Yet he believes himself to be part of an earthshaking conspiracy.

Neely gives John an empty suitcase & promises him more than $25,000 to deliver it in the desert to a certain fellow known as "Cowboy." When John arrives in the desert truckstop, where Darryl Hannah as Stella works as a bartender, he has missed Cowboy, so checks into a dive motel to wait for Cowboy's return.

John has a mild adventure with Stella's daughter Ruthie (Rachel Leigh Cook) the Lolita-like cowgirl, then has to cope with the violence of Randy (Adam Beach) the jealously lovesick truckstop "guide."

Then there's Dan the flying saucer nut, who like crazy Neely has a better grasp on reality than "normal" people are capable of assessing. He's not totally alone in his beliefs, as it's a pretty weird truckstop, & Ruthie if pressed to do so is willing to agree the nearby dry riverbed is a flying saucer transfer station where people & their vehicles have periodically vanished.

The denizens of this nasty little place include also Candy (Melora Walters) the waif-like truckstop whore & Elron (Jon Gries) the crazy motel night manager with a steal plate in his head & the local-color true native Indian Bob (Gary Farmer) who helps arrange rendezvous with the saucers. Following John Person into town is the comically sinister Agent Banks played by Kelsey Grammer, who suspects John of the murder of Neely.

With these & other oddball characters you'd think it'd be nonstop fun just seeing them interacting, but the story ain't good enough for that, & I just kept waiting for Cowboy to show up as promised to see if he could spice things up. And as played by Sean Bean, he most certainly will spice things up.

The Big EmptyIf it's beginning to sound peculiarly interesting, well, it can be at times, as it goes places that only Indpendent Cinema dares try. If it had been filmed under the scrutiny of big Hollywood investors, it could've been a whole lot worse.

Still, the chaos of the script has used the idea of fantasy & surrealism as an excuse to be merely sloppy & inept. It's easy to "blame" one's chaotic irrational writing on "hey, it's fantasy" but fact is a wacky tail well told has its own internal logic. This film lacks that so it comes off as trivial & bordering on amateur.

For long stretches it is outright boring. But it has higher production values than direct-to-video trash fantasy, & it has enough interesting moments to be worth a bit of patience, though patience is not facilitated by the soundtrack. The music used comes off as some dufus's home-made mixed tape which he made special for his girlfriend & never understood why she never wanted to see him after that.

As a black comedy it's an eighty-five percent dud. As an offbeat actorly piece it gets by, but as a thriller, let alone a science fiction thriller, it's too goofy to thrill, & not funny enough for laughs. Someone mistook the merely stupid for the comedic.

Cowboy finally shows up in a black stetson & duster to claim the suitcase & perform a couple random acts of violence & arrange for the flying saucer kidnappings though only willing victims are taken. I had throughout the film had some doubts this mishmash of nonsense could pay off in the end, but I stuck to it, & sure enough, when the big ending comes, it's no doozy. But I didn't feel totally ripped off for my time.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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