Big Bully

FamilyCrime, Law and JusticeMark Steven JohnsonMoviesCrimeRick Moranis

Monday January 29, 1996

     "Big Bully" is the right story in the wrong mold, raising more questions than it is prepared to deal with. Its makers try to shoehorn into the family comedy genre a decidedly dark--and actually quite pertinent--story about the difficulty many American men have in growing up. The material calls for either outright seriousness or pitch-black humor; the result is a waste of a good idea and a good cast.
     Right from the start, writer Mark Steven Johnson and director Steve Miner get off on the wrong foot with a lengthy prologue set in 1970 in a small Minnesota town. Diminutive, bespectacled David Leary (Justin John Ross) is subjected to constant physical abuse by huge, hefty Rosco (Fang) Bigger (Michael Zwiener).
     There's nothing very funny, for example, about David receiving a cut lip and a black eye from Fang, commemorated in a class photo that David's mother places on her living room mantel alongside last year's picture, showing David's face with the same injuries. Why aren't David's parents concerned? In any event, Fang is much too brutal a tormentor to be the source of humor.
     David's liberation arrives when his family out of the blue moves to Oakland, Calif., where David (now played by Rick Moranis) grows up to be a well-received, though far from best-selling, novelist. Apparently because of his traumatic childhood, David's wife has left him and their adolescent son Ben (Blake Bashoff), who has little respect for his ineffectual father.
     However, when David receives an offer to return to his hometown to teach creative writing at his old high school he leaps at the chance because he regards Ben's friends as "future stars on 'America's Most Wanted.' " Although he still has nightmares about Fang, he never thinks, incredibly enough, that he might well be confronted by him again.
     Because David fingered Fang for having stolen a piece of moon rock on display at school, which resulted in the bully being sent to reform school for three years, Fang has grown up, improbably, to be a big wimp (Tom Arnold) who teaches shop and lives in a mobile home with four kids and a lazy, shrewish wife (Carol Kane). However, encountering David again has reawakened the bully in him, and very quickly the two men are locked into childish skirmishes that escalate swiftly and dangerously.
     What is so offensive here is that the adult David is made to feel that as a child he shouldn't have blown the whistle on Fang because his punishment was clearly too drastic for the theft. This is nonsense, for in an environment where no adult was prepared to help--or even notice--either boy, David in fact did the only sensible thing. Just think how many other youngsters were spared Fang's systematic abuse by having taken him out of circulation for all that time.
     The final irony of "Big Bully" is that Moranis and Arnold are first-rate, but you keep wishing you were watching their David and Fang in an entirely different kind of film.


Big Bully, 1996. PG, for mean-spirited pranks, some crude humor and language. A Warner Bros. release of a Morgan Creek production in association with Lee Rich Productions. Director Steve Miner. Producers Lee Rich, Gary Foster. Executive producers Gary Barber, Dylan Seller. Screenplay Mark Steven Johnson. Cinematographer Daryn Okada. Editor Marshall Harvey. Costumes Monique Prudhomme. Music David Newman. Production designer Ian Thomas. Art director Douglasann Menchions. Set decorator Lesley Beale. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. Rick Moranis as David Leary. Tom Arnold as Rosco (Fang) Bigger. Justin John Ross as Young David. Michael Zwiener as Young Fang.

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