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The Big Lebowski

Starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi
Screenplay by Ethan and Joel Coen
Directed by Joel Coen
Website: www.lebowski.com

IN SHORT: Like the rush off good Thai Stick.

If there is one trademark bit of scriptwriting found in the work of brothers Ethan and Joel Coen, it is that they have an incredible talent for creating outrageous and unique characters. Their latest flick, The Big Lebowski, is almost nothing but skewed characterizations. It is also deliriously funny and, though I'm not advocating it for you kidlets, a good appreciation of stoner life makes it even funnier. Without it, watching fat male ballet dancers or black leather clad moron German nihilists would be, well, sad.

If you looked up Cranky's real name in the New York City phone book, you'd find over a dozen of me. If you looked up millionaire Jeff Lebowski in the LA book, you'd find two. If you were the strongarm thugs of the pornographer who lent money to Lebowski's trophy wife, you'd bust in on the wrong man. Which is where this flick kicks off, with Jeff Bridges starring as The Dude (Lebowski was his parent's name, y'see), a deadbeat who enjoys dope, Lite Beer and Bowling. If you pour the drinks, he'll suck down a couple of White Russians and thank you very much.

Said thugs, looking for the namesake's wife, do urinary damage to a rug in El Dudester's ramshackle apartment. The rug "tied the whole place together" so Dude goes to the estate of the Big Lebowski of the title, a disabled old man whose conservative values are typical Coen -- he's got a loud mouth and he's way too self important. Lebowski's much too young trophy wife is an (ex?) porn star and his alienated daughter, Maude (Julianne Moore) is a feminist artist of the modern school who paints in the nude.

In short order, the rug deal leads to a short term gig delivering a ransom for the kidnaped wife, which is where the Dude's best buds mess up the plan. Walter (John Goodman) is a Vietnam Vet who's still stuck in Saigon and Donny (Steve Buscemi) seems to live in a world about three seconds out of synch with the rest of us. When the ransom suitcase is lost, claimants come out of the woodwork. Dude sort of (and almost literally) floats through it all, until he figures out what's really going on. In between, you get a Busby Berkeley musical scene, an ode to the old Chuck Conners TV show Branded, German nihilists in what look like speed skating suits and a cowboy (Sam Elliot) who whose purpose as the stories narrator is quite beyond me.

As always, the characters are spectacular. The problem is the story is thin. As a vehicle to get from one very funny sequence to another, it works great. As the frame for a substantially satisfying story, it falls flat.

The interaction between the mellow Bridges and the fury filled Goodman characters is a joy to watch. Most of the other actors drift through, adding little but color and laughs. The exception is John Turturro as Jesus, a bowling rival. Jesus has little to do in this flick, other than show up a pair of times and make your draw drop with an astounding performance. He prances. He preens. He licks his bowling ball lovingly and is a convicted pederast -- again, typical Coen Brothers stuff. Turturro's perf is the one people will be talking about. It's insane.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Big Lebowski, he would have paid . . .


Cranky admits to liking Coen Brothers flicks a lot. Fargo was fully realized. The Big Lebowski is a good pipe dream without the Haagen-Daas kicker.

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