Bounce wants in the worst way to reproduce the crucial balance between effortless thrill and perverse ambition that drives the best caper movies. But its two young principals, Owen Wilson (Bottle Rocket) and Sara Foster (a long-stemmed fashion model whose chief dramatic gift consists of waggling her butt) don't get it done, and a generous sprinkling of veteran stars -- Morgan Freeman as a mysterious district judge on the north shore of Oahu, Gary Sinise as a sleazy real estate developer and Charlie Sheen as a buffoonish gofer, can do little to aid the cause.
Wilson resuscitates a familiar type: the aimless drifter with a police record and a penchant for bad luck. He's a likable petty thief who doesn't mind burglarizing a fraternity house or stealing the occasional car but finds himself in deep water when a big score comes his way. Hey, the guy has blond bangs. He surfs. That his name is Jack Ryan should disturb no one: Created back in 1969, Elmore Leonard's Ryan precedes Tom Clancy's dashing CIA agent of the same name by fifteen years. (The first filmed version of The Big Bounce also came out in 1969, with Ryan O'Neal in the lead.)
Unfortunately, Foster plays the femme fatale of the piece, Nancy Hayes. A sleek blonde, Nancy allegedly has a taste for illicit adventure and a gift for manipulation, but Foster's performance suggests Sandra Dee more than Barbara Stanwyck or Kathleen Turner. When Nancy supposedly gets her hooks into Jack, it's a little hard to believe. She seems more concerned with her many costume changes -- bikini to halter top, sarong to strategically wrapped towel -- than with her instinct for betrayal, and even her darkest, most amusing lines of Leonard-generated dialogue suggest a teenager playing a tough girl in the school play.
Jack and Nancy (along with almost everyone else, it turns out) are in single-minded pursuit of $200,000 that's been secreted away by Sinise's odious developer, Ray Ritchie. By the time a few bodies are scattered around and we're finally liberated to the lobby, all the usual twists of plot and weird revelations of character common to the caper and film noir genres have been played out -- without much force or effect. Some sketchy minor characters materialize: Willie Nelson and the fine character actor Harry Dean Stanton pop in for a quick game of dominoes with Morgan Freeman and then promptly vanish. In the end, the director spirits his hero away in the back of a white stretch limousine. Revealing this here does not, I assure you, constitute a betrayal of the viewer's anticipation of mystery. The low-wattage thrills, lukewarm jokes and unconvincing caricatures in The Big Bounce simply don't generate that kind of excitement. Elmore Leonard gets another check, but he deserves better, even 35 years after the fact.