"Rolling A Gutter Ball"
In THE BIG LEBOWSKI, soft-spoken, lazy, lounge loafer Jeff Lebowski, aka The Dude (Jeff Bridges), and his sidekicks, Walter (John Goodman) and Donnie (Steve Buscemi) become entangled in a kidnapping and
Although they have a reputation in Hollywood for their quirky, cinematic and sometimes narrowly appealing movies, such as FARGO, RAISING ARIZONA, HUDSUCKER PROXY, and MILLER’S CROSSING, brothers Joel and Ethan Coen have rolled a gutter ball with THE BIG LEBOWSKI. Beginning with a comically promising premise about a crisis in the life of a soft-spoken, bowling-addicted, lazy, lounge loafer, THE BIG LEBOWSKI has quirky and
imaginative sequences, but misses hitting even two pins with its empty and meaningless story.
THE BIG LEBOWSKI begins with an entertaining voice-over, as the camera follows a tumbleweed blowing into Los Angeles, then into the ocean. The tumbleweed is a metaphor for the bowling balls which anti-hero Jeff
Lebowski, aka The Dude (Jeff Bridges), and his sidekicks, embittered Vietnam vet Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi) throw down the alleys of a Venice, California bowling alley. Unemployed, the Dude never has engaged in life and ekes out an alcoholic existence drinking white Russians in his rundown bungalow in Venice and taking part in league bowling with his foul-mouthed friends.
One day, thugs ambush the Dude in his bungalow, and, in a case of mistaken identity, blackmail him for his wife’s alleged debts to a shady character named Jackie Treehorn. They dunk his face in the toilet and urinate on his rug. He protests that he is not married, and the crestfallen thugs leave.
At the bowling alley, after threatening another bowler with his concealed pistol in a dispute over a bowling score, Walter persuades the Dude to pursue the other Jeffrey Lebowski to recover damages for his ruined rug. At
the Big Lebowski’s (David Huddleston’s) pretentious Pasadena mansion, the Dude meets the man’s comical sycophant assistant, who ushers him into the wheelchair-bound Big Lebowski’s presence, where he states his case, but the Big Lebowski throws him out. On the way out of the mansion, he gets a rug anyway and meets golden girl Bunny Lebowski, who makes him a crude sexual offer.
Next, the Big Lebowski invites him back to offer the Dude $20,000 if he delivers a satchel of $1 million in cash to kidnappers who have threatened Lebowski’s young, nubile wife. On his way out, the assistant hands him a metal suitcase from a wall safe. On the way to the drop point, Walter barges into his car with his gun and hands him a sack of underwear. Tossing that over the bridge instead of the cash, the Dude botches the ransom payment drop-off maneuver. Back at the bowling alley, Walter commiserates with the Dude, but when they emerge from the alley, his car is gone.
Stolen. Crestfallen, he returns to his bungalow to drink more white Russians. Meanwhile, the Big Lebowski’s estranged daughter, Maude (Julianne Moore), invites the Dude to talk with her about recovering the $1 million ransom and her rug. Eccentric, Maude flies in nude on a suspended leather sling, spattering droplets of paint on her floor-laid canvas in a 1990’s version of 1940s New York painter Jackson Pollock. She, too, makes a crude sexual suggestion to the Dude, who leaves in a daze.
Panicked, he and Walter try to trace the stolen car, but all they find is a teenager’s homework in the front seat when the police return the car. The suitcase is gone. Walter wrongly assumes that the homework writer is the
thief, and he exacts revenge on a red Corvette outside the taciturn teenager’s house, which turns out to be the wrong car. Returning to his bungalow, the Dude is slugged by another intruder, and, in a daze, imagines a bowling fantasy sequence featuring Maude as a bowling goddess wearing a Viking horned helmet and a metal skirt. The film concludes as the Dude pays a visit to pornographer Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara), who is staging a beach party featuring six beach boys who hold a huge trampoline on which a nude Bunny Lebowski is bounced up and down. The movie’s climax is remarkably vapid and insipid.
A cynical, nihilistic movie with hilarious parts, THE BIG LEBOWSKI rolls a gutter ball despite the talents of its writer-director-producers, the Coen Brothers. Quirky and imaginative, it delivers the message that life is empty and meaningless, as its main characters meander from one silly encounter to another in a world seemingly devoid of rhyme or reason. With no God to serve and no higher purpose in which to aspire, the Dude, Walter and the Lebowskis trudge through the mud of random events without hope and without redemption. Displaying nonstop profanities, addictions to alcohol and sex and an overtly existentialist worldview, THE BIG LEBOWSKI scores a big zero on the MOVIEGUIDE movie league scorepad.
Russell Schwartz, President
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(HHH, Ab, LLL, V, S, NNN, A, D, M ) Cynical existentialist worldview with anti-Biblical elements; 325 obscenities, 16 profanities & lots of crude sex talk; men shove man’s face in toilet, man urinates on rug, man threatens man with gun, man beats car with tire iron, men fight men, & men threaten to kill men; frequent upper female nudity, with one scene with full-body female nudity, & upper male nudity; implied sex; alcohol, drugs & revenge.