Two Coens in the Fountain

The Coens want to contrast the Dude, who's stuck in the past in some benign way, with Walter, who's stuck in the past in a disastrous way, always geared for action and constantly replaying 'Nam. But the concept is more piquant than the outcome; Walter's presence is too bludgeoning. Framed as a still, silent group, Bridges, Goodman, and Steve Buscemi (the good-natured third guy on their bowling team) are funnier than they are in action. The one outright riotous moment comes early -- the first sight of the Dude pumping like a stoned drum major to the First Edition's "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)."

The movie's pleasant and unpleasant surprises tend to cancel each other out. For every unexpected graceful cameo (like Christian Clemenson as an incongruously sweet-tempered police officer) there's a miscalculation or a misfire. John Turturro has an uproarious buildup as a crazed bowler and convicted pedophile -- too uproarious for a part without a payoff. (He's apparently Hispanic, but he pronounces his name, Jesus, with a hard J.) And how are we to respond to the tubby would-be ballet star? Or the nihilists chattering away in accents that sound like Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon doing their Schwarzenegger clones Hans and Franz on Saturday Night Live? It's the kind of failed pop dada that makes you cry uncle. The Coens are more successful here with mundane material -- Bridges does the giddiest slovenly stoner slapstick since Cheech and Chong in 1978's Up in Smoke. In traditional shaggy-dog stories, the shagginess comes in the punch line. Here, thanks to Bridges, the shaggy dog is smack in the center of things.

The Big Lebowski.
Directed by Joel Coen. Written by Joel and Ethan Coen. Starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, and Steve Buscemi.

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