The Big Empty - Press Archive - Favreau’s ‘Big Empty’ filled with romance, charm

 

Source: Los Angeles Times
21 November 2003

 
Favreau’s ‘Big Empty’ filled with romance, charm
By Kevin Thomas

HOLLYWOOD -- In Steve Anderson’s droll “The Big Empty,” Jon Favreau’s
aspiring actor John Person, after a decade in Hollywood, has but two
commercials and three segments in a canceled series to his credit. A
sweet-natured teddy bear of a man, John nevertheless refuses to give
up, but his nerdy next-door neighbor Neely (Bud Cort) has him nailed when
he offers him a proposition that cannot be refused. Somehow Neely has
managed to uncover every conceivable embarrassing personal thing about
John to blackmail him into accepting a job that will pay him $25,000 just
for delivering a suitcase to Baker, where he is to hand it over to a man
called Cowboy. (Alas, John is as behind in his rent at Hollywood’s landmark
Alto Nido Apartments as William Holden’s Joe Gillis was in “Sunset Blvd.”)
 
John pulls into Arne’s Royal Hawaiian Motel in Baker, desert pit stop
halfway to Las Vegas and gateway to Death Valley, only to experience
the first of just barely missed hook-ups with the mysterious Cowboy. This
gives Anderson ample time for his shaggy-dog story to unfold one funny
twist and turn after another as John encounters a series of colorful locals:
the Royal Hawaiian’s goofy, nosey manager (Jon Gries); Darryl Hannah’s sleek,
seen-it-all but warm-hearted bar proprietor; her teenage temptress
adoptive daughter Ruthie (Rachael Leigh Cook); Ruthie’s hot-headed boyfriend
(Adam Beach); and a blue-collar guy (Brent Briscoe) who insists that the
long-talked-about bullet train that would connect Southern California
and Las Vegas is but a ploy to keep travelers from noticing UFO activity
in the desert -- “the big empty,” which is also a reputed dumping ground for
dead bodies.

Before John actually encounters Cowboy (Sean Bean), a Marlboro
Man in a black leather duster, he is dismayed to find he is being tracked by
an hilariously square but shrewd FBI agent, played with brio by Kelsey
Grammer. In each case the casting of these roles is right on. Meanwhile, back
at the Alto Nido, Grace (Joey Lauren Adams), the young woman who lives
across the hall from John, is worried sick.

In his feature debut, Anderson combines a wacky sense of humor
with an affectionate light touch. Surely, the desert is meant to reflect the
“big empty” John feels inside himself, as does Ruthie for that matter, but
Anderson refreshingly refuses to underline this notion. He does take
a tack that’s way, way out of left field, for which there has been some
foreshadowing. “The Big Empty” has a seductive easiness (which may
not be for everyone, but it works), a laid-back yet ever-so-slightly
portentous score and a wonderful sense of place. This stopover town is
appealingly open and casual, yet its citizens, especially bored teens like Ruthie,
must envy the incessant flow of travelers heading to or from infinitely more
exciting places.

The filmmakers’ concern for amusing detail extends right down to
the faux bamboo Italian Provincial bedroom set in John’s motel room. (One can
only hope that it’s not just a set, that the rooms at the Royal Hawaiian,
a real motel, are actually furnished this way, right down to grass-skirted
hula girl lamps.)

“The Big Empty” is much more a romantic fable than “Swingers,” the singles
comedy that established Favreau but has a similarly jovial, unpretentious
charm.

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