Why is it that all hard boiled detectives in movies have to have the standard-issue growly deep-voiced monotone? Are there no soprano private investigators? The throat lozenge market would make a killing catering their ads specifically to people like P.I. Ned Cruz, the hero of this Friday’s “The Big Bang,” a silly noir pisstake hitting DVD soon after its theatrical run.
Cruz (Antonio Banderas) is about to hang it up after another long night of raspy interrogations and seedy client visits when he’s visited by Anton (Robert Maillet), a hulking Russian boxer who claims his girlfriend has gone missing. Cruz would usher this man out of his office if Anton didn’t reveal that the missing girl is also currently nursing $30 million in diamonds. Maillet, last seen as the wordless thug who chases the title character of “Sherlock Holmes,” appears frequently throughout the narrative, and sharing scenes with a number of talented character actors, he has a chance to assert himself as a compelling onscreen performer. He does not take full advantage of this chance.
Cruz’s journey leads him to New Mexico, and soon he realizes that Lexie is somehow involved with billionaire Simon Kestral. Kestral had secluded himself in the desert with a young physicist prodigy, dedicating his money towards finding the Higgs-Boson particle (or, the “God Particle”) and using it to create… well, it’s there in the title. Kestrel is played by Sam Elliot, one of many respected actors in the film who relished the opportunity to ham up a storm without any of those pesky “auteurs” telling them to clam up. As such, it’s hard to take him seriously through a blinding-white Edgar Winter toupee that makes him resemble an extra in “Gentlemen Broncos.”
The somewhat liberal logic of the film partly stems from Cruz himself, who narrates the entire affair for a trio of men who demand to know what became of the diamonds. It seems like some sort of holding cell, but the desperation of these men makes this shakedown seem just a bit shady. It doesn’t help that Cruz appears punch-drunk and possibly concussed, having soaked up enough information about the God Particle that his predicament is borderline philosophical. Which allows three fine actors (William Fichtner, Delroy Lindo and Thomas Kretschmann) to go through the motions by repeating variations of, “Stop jerking us around, you handsome Latin treasure!”
It’s unclear how TV producer-turned-director Tony Krantz managed to wrangle such a cast for a confused genre trip like this. Even Banderas spends the film wondering how he became a leading man candidate for stuff like this (Tom Jane, presumably, wasn’t available), assuming a low growl is able to excuse a characterization that makes him the rube when dealing with some, and supernaturally in tune with others. The inconsistency becomes so distracting in Banderas’ performance that you begin to suspect, in addition to the loopy quantum physics and cartoony crime underworld, that his character has a possibly supernatural side where he’s playing all sides of this con for saps. It’s a genuine career-low. Congratulations to Bill Duke, James Van Der Beek and Snoop Dogg, who only appear in one scene each and somehow maintain their dignity. Oh, wait, Van Der Beek has tantric sex with a midget jester and Snoop plays a porn producer named Puss? Nevermind then.
“The Big Bang” feels like five below-quality film ideas shoved together, each one possibly funny on the page, but played straight by Krantz, who loads his movie with ugly indoor shadows and an inexplicable avalanche of dutch angles. Every moment of failed camp plays like High Drama, with the pieces in this elaborate chess game constantly clashing against each other in an attempt to add meaning to a story that is less a cohesive narrative and more of a free association exercise. Closing with an apocalyptic car chase, “The Big Bang” finally realizes there’s nowhere to go but down, eschewing the unconventionality of the earlier moments for a closing ten minutes that wouldn’t be out of place in a standard Hollywood actioner. Which is a disappointment. Because at that point all the movie had going for it was that it was “different.” [D-]