Review: 'Big Lebowski' is fun, but won't bowl you over
March 5, 1998
"The Big Lebowski"
Web posted at: 11:22 a.m. EST (1622 GMT)
From Reviewer Paul Tatara
(CNN) -- I've been a huge Joel and Ethan Coen supporter since
1984's "Blood Simple," so it's with more than a little bit of
consternation that I report on "The Big Lebowski," the
brothers' hit-or-miss follow-up to their Academy Award
winning comedy/drama, "Fargo."
The Coens are nothing if not perverse, so I've always sort of
forgiven them for the erratic nature of their output. Warped
classics like "Raising Arizona" and "Fargo," which, given
their talent, should be the norm, have always stood out as
What the far-reaching and (I'm more and more inclined to
suspect) attention-challenged Coens usually deliver are
visually and verbally inventive, sporadically exciting messes
like "Barton Fink" and "The Hudsucker Proxy." You should go
ahead and add "The Big Lebowski" to that list, but, in a Coen
brothers first, you shouldn't expect too much on the oral
front. For some reason, rampant, unamusing profanities have
taken precedence over their usual warped wordplay.
To say that "The Big Lebowski" lacks focus is an
understatement, and I don't want to hear that old war-horse
about it just being entertainment, so you shouldn't expect
anything else. Understand that the Coens are capable of
churning out very peculiar but altogether sane pop cultural
artifacts. That they're more and more taking the lazy-ass
David Lynch route by simply throwing "weirdness" at the
screen -- one of the oldest and least difficult tricks in the
book -- is a real shame.
I laughed out loud a few times during "The Big Lebowski," and
Jeff Bridges, as always, is very good, but after I write this
review, I'll probably never think about the movie again. And
I spend way too much time thinking about movies.
Bridges stars as an L.A.-based stoner/bowling bum named Jeff
Lebowski, who insists on being called The Dude. The Dude
doesn't have a job, doesn't want one and generally tries to
make it through the day by trying to make it through the day.
Bridges apparently threw himself into the role, developing a
highly uncharacteristic beer belly and letting his hair grow
into an unruly mop. He imbues The Dude with something more
than the California pot-smoker phrasings that became the
accepted approach to this type of character after Sean Penn's
hilarious performance as Spicoli in "Fast Times At Ridgemont
This Dude is a leftover '60s radical who seems too tired to
go on caring so much. He walks around in hideously
uncoordinated clothes (Bermuda shorts with no socks is his
basic uniform) and has never met a major problem that he
couldn't shrug off in seconds.
That all changes, though, when a couple of muscle-bound
henchman break into his apartment and urinate on his rug.
That's what I said. It turns out that a local millionaire,
also named Jeff Lebowski, has a porn star wife (Tara Reid)
who owes money to some thugs, and they've mistaken The Dude
for the Big Lebowski.
The Dude visits the millionaire (cartoonishly played, in the
Coen tradition, by David Huddleston) in an attempt to get a
new rug, but eventually, and for no good reason, winds up
delivering $1 million in ransom money when the wife gets
Then The Dude's crazed Vietnam vet bowling buddy (John
Goodman, also way over the top) gets involved and tries to
keep the money for himself and The Dude.
Plenty of weird characters
There's also The Big Lebowski's daughter, Maude (Julianne
Moore), a feminist performance artist who suspends herself,
naked, from a system of pulleys while she paints. And I'm
not even mentioning the German nihilists or John Turturro as
a psychotic bowling demigod or Sam Elliott as the omniscient
"The Big Lebowski"
I really don't know what to say about all of this. The Coens
are not looking to tell a story, and they even insert
completely extraneous dream sequences at inopportune moments,
almost as if they're trying to goad you into throwing your
hands up in despair.
As uniquely talented as they are, they really don't seem
capable of learning a damn thing from their previous
misfires. If you can't tell from the finished product or the
miserable box office that "The Hudsucker Proxy" wanders
around like it's got sand in its eyes and eventually drives
its audience nuts, then you end up doing the same thing with
"The Big Lebowski."
Yes, it's different. Yes, it's odd. Yes, it's got some
laughs. For all those "yeses," though, it eventually adds up
to an overly busy "no."
"Fargo" suggested that the Coens might be growing up a
little, but now they've managed to drop back down the
evolutionary ladder. Who knows which pair of brothers will
show up for their next movie. I'll be waiting, but this
might be the last time.
"The Big Lebowski" is way, way out there. There's a great
deal of profanity, and overt drug use. At one point, Moore
dons a Viking outfit that sports a bowling ball brassiere.
It just didn't seem right not to mention it. Rated R. 117