Big Bad Love

             Movies that are vanity productions can be tricky. Obviously, the
     filmmaker(s) have a special relationship to the material. Some can yield
     extraordinary results, while others are almost unwatchable. The esteemed
     character actor Arliss Howard obviously found commonality in the
     autobiographical short stories of author Larry Brown, which he and his
     brother Jim have fashioned into the screenplay for
     Howard not only served as co-writer, but he also as director and star. He
     portrays Leon, an alcoholic Vietnam veteran who dreams of writing great
     fiction despite the numerous rejection letters he receives. Having an
     author as the protagonist of a film is especially difficult as the act of
     writing by its nature is solitary and undramatic. To compensate, Howard
     employs a variety of techniques (like fantasy sequences and voiceovers)
     to allow the audience to enter into the character's mind. While it's a
     praiseworthy idea, the execution isn't as fluid or as intriguing. In fact,
     there's a tendency of Howard as director to concentrate on these
     cleverish ideas to the point of putting off the audience.

             It's something of a shame, as
BIG BAD LOVE is otherwise
     well-performed. Actors who turn to directing tend to have a particular
     affinity with their casts and Howard is no different. Paul Le Mat as
     Leon's pal Monroe offers a terrific performance. There's a palpable
     camaraderie between the men that goes beyond the script. Rosanna
     Arquette once again gets to display her facility with playing sexy
     women as Monroe's girlfriend. Only Angie Dickinson (who it must be
     said was never noted for her thespian skills) seems miscast as Leon's
     mother. She appears to be trying to channel Gena Rowlands but ends
     up delivering her lines in a flat monotone that causes her whole mien
     to come across as wooden.

             Perhaps the best news about
BIG BAD LOVE is that it marks the
     return to the big screen of Debra Winger (who is the off screen Mrs. Arliss
     Howard). It's hard to believe that Winger has been absent for some
     six years. As Leon's ex-wife, Winger is the best thing in the film.
     She registers a gamut of emotions and her skilled work reminds the
     audience just how fine a performer she is. Winger didn't take to playing
     the Hollywood game, so she more or less quit making films. Hopefully,
     this will usher her back as her astringent presence has been sorely missed.

BIG BAD LOVE was clearly a labor of love for Howard, and while
     he should be commended for bringing Winger back to movie screens,
     his overall achievement is one that makes this a vanity project that falls
     somewhere between the extraordinary and the unwatchable.

                                      Rating:            C
                                      Running time:  111 mins.
                                      MPAA Rating:   R
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.