Bowling for Dullards

Bridges scores, Coens overshoot lane in wacked-out Big Lebowski

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 an Anglo "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 Schwarzenegger 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 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; with Jeff Bridges, John Goodman and Julianne Moore.

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