Jarv’s Birthday Series Redux: The Big Easy (1987)

I liked New Orléans when I went there years ago. A great atmosphere, easy women, alcohol by the bucketload- what’s not to love? Actually, and this reminds me, and it’s got less than nothing at all to do with the film but may strike a laugh, me and my mate were walking down Bourbon Street 3 sheets to the wind. We stopped to buy another daiquiri off a friendly native selling them from a stall, when I happened to glance up at the balcony of the bar opposite. On this balcony stands two of the best looking women that I’ve ever seen. They’re also clearly hammered, as they’re stripping for the pleasure of the crowd below. However, standing next to them was one of the least attractive and heftiest women that I saw in my entire time in America. She’s clearly 9 Sheets to a hurricane and for some reason best known to herself is also taking her clothes off. I take a swig of my drink, nudge my mate and say “Do you think her mother’s proud?”. Just as I’m going to take another swig of delicious beverage, I feel the clout of a meaty paw to the back of my head. I turn round to see a small and angry middle-aged woman glaring up at me with the vengeance of an angered god in her eyes. Before I can mutter a word, she screams out “I AM ACTUALLY”.

Anyway, that’s got less than nothing to do with the film, at all, so here we go with the review.

May contain stuffed alligators  and spoilers below.

The Big Easy (release date August 21st in America) has an absolutely glowing review from Ebert. I don’t like it as much as he does, hell, I don’t think anyone on the planet, even those that made it, like it as much as he does, but I do concede that it’s obviously a good film. New Orléans, actually, lends itself to crime thrillers as it’s a naturally evocative location, being all funny accents, steamy weather and iconic architecture. The Big Easy takes its name from the moniker often applied to New Orléans, which reminds me, incidentally, is San Francisco named “The Big Pain in the Ass”? and makes the absolute most of its natural advantages. Basically, what we have here is a crime thriller/ love story set in one of America’s most iconic cities.

“But Cher, I love my stuffed alligator”

Meet Remy (Dennis Quad), a smooth operator and borderline corrupt cop. Remy compartmentalises his corruption as just the little things, believing that he’s one of the good guys where it matters. Into his life comes Anne (Ellen Barkin), a DA Lawyer with a boner for corrupt police officers. After they meet over the corpse of a low-level wiseguy, she tries to resist Remy’s sleazy charm, but the inevitable is clearly going to happen. Until he stacks it, by taking her to dinner, where she is aghast that the restaurant owner won’t accept payment from Remy. Rightly castigating him for graft, he simply doesn’t think that what he’s doing is wrong- it’s just how things work down here.

He’s wrong actually. As the film develops, we can see that these little bribes add up, and the entire police force is on the take in some form or another. The “Widows and Orphans” fund, for example, is only a pooled resource for bribes, and promotion in the department is based on “favours”. Eventually, Remi does bed Anne (a stunning and surprisingly erotic scene, considering I’ve never found her remotely attractive) that plays out as the meeting of two lonely, bitter, disillusioned but above all else scared people.

“He’s so dreamy. And he’s got a stuffed alligator”

Which makes what follows a real kick in the nuts. Remy is set up by his friends on the force (John Goodman and Ebbe Roe Smith) and his father figure Captain (Ned Beatty), and caught literally with his fingers in the till. Anne tries hard to have him sent down, but a neat piece of inter department co-operation erases the incriminating video tape. Anne is devastated; this is shattering for her, and Barkin oozes contained rage, particularly during the Cajun cook-out that she’s shanghaied into attending.

Eventually, as the body count borders on the ridiculous, and they reconcile to take down the bad guys. I won’t spoil who it is, but this is the chief weakness of the film- it’s a bad dose of Jackie from Roseanne syndrome- in that you know exactly who the bad guys are from their very first appearance on screen. Obviously, our heroes survive and the film finishes with them married and about to do the nasty.

“Stop ragging on my stuffed Alligator Ned, or I’ll go all Deliverance on your ass again”

This is a good film, and it’s very nearly a great one. The strength of The Big Easy, actually, isn’t the crime thriller stuff. If anything, that’s a touch boring, predictable and extraneous. Rather, this is a film about two lonely but likeable people coming together. Quaid, despite his utter inability to do the accent, is highly likeable as Remy, and Barkin has never been better than she is here. We like these two numpties, and we root for them- we want them to get together. Actually, thinking about this makes me even more cross at Crossing Delancey, because these two would have worked perfectly in a Romcom of some description.

The supporting cast is all good fun. Beatty puts in probably his best performance since Deliverance, and without any squealing, and Goodman displays a neat comic touch when required. Lynch regular Gracie Zabriskie is on rare scene stealing form as Remy’s mother, and Lisa Jane Persky is great fun as Quaid’s subordinate McCabe. However, the start turn from the support is Charles Ludlum as Remy’s lawyer- a magnificently sleazy effort in a blatant stereotype of a part. He’s hours of fun, actually, and I wanted more of him on screen and less of the thriller shenanigans.

“Fine then, if it means that much to you, we can get the stuffed Alligator involved”

Directed by Jim McBride, who also made Gere vehicle Breathless, this feels like a throwback. The Big Easy could have fit in with no effort at all into the noir type movies that Bogart made his own, and in another world this could have been stunning with Bacall in the Anne role. It doesn’t particularly work as a thriller, but it does work as a character piece: a crime movie where the crime is almost incidental.

That’s the big problem, though. As much as I like our main characters and find them sympathetic, I’m watching this because it’s a crime film. The finale, as clichéd and predictable as it is, feels forced, as if McBride knows he’s coming to the end of his run time, and therefore has to jam it all together as fast as he can. It’s also not in the least bit exciting, because there’s no way in hell that a film as good-natured as this one is going to force tragedy down our throats, so there’s no risk to the central characters. Killing the support, frankly, does not have the same effect.

Remy is upset, because Anne’s gone off with his stuffed Alligator.

Overall, The Big Easy is a really good film and one that flirts with greatness on more than one occasion. It’s a big thick Gumbo of a film- being all assorted bits thrown into a stewpot, but that’s really not a criticism. At the end of the day, I do recommend this, but with one piece of advice: forget it is a crime film. Watch The Big Easy on a Sunday afternoon and it’ll whip by, and there’s far worse ways to spend 90 minutes than rooting for likeable people to get together. I’m giving the Big Easy 3 drunken Alligators out of a possible 4, and that’s because it really doesn’t work as a thriller.

I wish more Romcoms would look at the characters here, because Remy and Anne are easily strong enough to carry a romance film by themselves, but above all else we like them and want them to triumph. And if they had, then I may have been spared Crossing Delancey.

Until next time,

Jarv.

The Full List for the Birthday Series Redux:

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

52 responses to “Jarv’s Birthday Series Redux: The Big Easy (1987)”

  1. Jarv says :

    Liked this one. Incidentally, both Quaid and Barkin think it’s the best thing they’ve done. I’m not so sure, but I’d put it in the top 3 for both of them.

  2. tombando says :

    Have this one, used to like it more than I do now. Kept being taken outta it by the goofy nawlins accents, Barkins lousy jog/ bounce routine, and the over obvious baddies. Its odd as I do like cast, setting, genre etc. But its pretty dated.

    I say go w Sea of Love if you wanna see Barkin and Goodman in a crime thriller, that also has a real obvious baddie too.

    • Jarv says :

      That and Buckaroo Banzai were the films I was thinking of as being better than this.

      Quaid’s accent is all over the bloody shop.

      • Droid says :

        Quaid’s got a lot of good movies. The Right Stuff, Innerspace, Dragonheart, Frequency, The Rookie, GI Joe (hehe). This must be good if it’s top 3.

      • Jarv says :

        It’s better than GI Joe, and Dragonheart, definitely.

        The Rookie I don’t remember, The Right Stuff is great as is Frequency and Innerspace.

        He rates it as his favourite, but it’s a tough call with him. But it’s nowhere near his best performance.

  3. Droid says :

    Christ, when I saw that you’d praised this I had it in my head that it was that middle class 30-somethings movie. Although I’ve never seen it, I thought that all these OoD movies had finally tipped you over the edge.

    Anyway, I’ve not seen this. Not sure why. No reason in particular. I like all of the cast you mentioned, and I like a good crime movie. I may have to track it down.

    • Jarv says :

      I’ll stick it on the HD for you.

      Anyway, could you blame me if I had? That’s been a frigging horrible run me and Wolf have been on- and he only narrowly avoided a hattrick for the Rude Gorilla.

      • Droid says :

        Cool.

        Yes, I would blame you. You didn’t have to watch The Woman.

      • Jarv says :

        Ah! You see that was the equivalent of lancing a boil. I was expecting this to be dreadful, and the frigging bounty hunter fiasco has upset me something fierce. So I thought that I could vent it all to allow me to do a proper review of this and Crossing Delancey (both of which are really highly rated though feck knows why with Delancey).

        Didn’t work. Delancey was horrid. And I’ve still got to do The Bounty Hunter.

  4. tombando says :

    Its a perfectly alright film, just doesnt work for me like it once did.

    You know there was a time about then that you couldnt get away from Goodman, he has dropped outta sight by and large.

  5. Droid says :

    New Orleans and Florida. Two great setting for these types of steamy, seamy crime movies.

    I’m thinking of Body Heat and Wild Things in particular. They’re both Florida.

    • Jarv says :

      The Bayou is perfect for it, as are the Everglades. It’s almost adding instant atmosphere- particularly when you take into account New Orleans’ voodoo legend.

      • Droid says :

        Looking at what Dennis has coming up, I’ve found a new assignment for you.

        Rapid Fire

        A former professional athlete with a weak past tries to redeem himself by coaching his son’s soccer team, only to find himself unable to resist when in scoring position with his players’ restless and gorgeous moms.

        Just look at the horribly photoshopped poster. Judy Greer looks crosseyed and Uma Thurman looks like Sam the Eagle.

      • Jarv says :

        hahahahaha!

        I’m certain that Butler is on the Sack of Cocks but in reverse career path- look at the shite he’s in now.

        He even looks a bit like the bellend.

      • Droid says :

        That’s true actually. The only movie I can think of that I liked Butler in was that one with Jamie Foxx. The ridiculous thriller where he got his revenge from jail.

      • Droid says :

        “From the director of The Pursuit of Happiness”

        Um… no mention of Seven Pounds? C’mon!

      • Jarv says :

        I’m sure I’ve seen pursuit. Refuse to watch 7 pounds.

      • Droid says :

        I’ve not seen Pursuit.

        I think you should watch Seven Pounds. It’s a triumphant, life affirming advocation of suicide.

      • Jarv says :

        Law abiding citizen?

        300! THIS IS SPARTA!!!!

        nah, that’s shit.

      • Jarv says :

        He’s hilarious in Young Person’s Guide to Becoming a Rock Star:

        “I just want my Avos”

      • Droid says :

        Never heard of it.

      • Droid says :

        Butler (that I’ve seen)…

        Dracula 2000… OoD
        Reign of Fire… Okay
        Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life… Meh
        Timeline… Crap
        300… Shite
        Butterfly on a Wheel… Crap
        RocknRolla… Shite
        Tales of the Black Freighter… Alright.
        Gamer… OoD
        Law Abiding Citizen… Fun
        How to Train Your Dragon… Fun
        The Bounty Hunter… OoD

      • Droid says :

        Now, I could do without the remake, but if they were to do it, why not cast Butler as Connor MaCleod? At the very least, he’s Scottish.

      • Droid says :

        Yeah, LAC. I like that movie. Dumb as a sack of rocks, but it was fun.

  6. Echo the Bunnyman says :

    Good review Jarv. None too soon with this. For some reason I too was thinking ‘the big chill’ when I saw you mention the title, except that’s obviously an earlier movie than this one. I liked this, but am struggling to remember many specifics about it, tonally and what not.

    As for New Orleans and films, you really need to see this one. For a change, Im not even being sarcastic:http://popcultureninja.com/2012/07/12/beasts-of-the-southern-wild-review-life-and-death-in-the-bathtub/
    I’d say its up there with Ink, as an example of what can be achieved as an independent feature.

  7. Echo the Bunnyman says :

    when you break butler’s career down like that, it’s a lot more ass than I thought. I’ll give him credit for Dear Frankie and Coriolanus too.

  8. Echo the Bunnyman says :

    Of course, there’s also Nim’s Island, PS I love You, Phantom of the Opera…and, oh god….Machine Gun Preacher, also in the negative column.

    I did sort of like that version of beowulf he did with sarah polley.

  9. redfishybluefishy says :

    i do remember enjoying this movie. admittedly the main thing i remember about it is their sex scene and i’m glad to hear it that part still works to good effect. barkin and quaid have good chemistry.

  10. Continentalop says :

    Really good review Jarv. But I want to hear more about this hefty woman you bedded in front of her mother…

  11. Continentalop says :

    Also, I don’t think Bogie would be good for a 40’s/50’s Big Easy. This film calls for either Richard Widmark or Robert Mitchum, probably Mitchum, and Ida Lupino.

  12. ThereWolf says :

    I’ve got this on VHS – it’s in a box in the cellar I think!

    I’m not a fan, to be honest. That said, Quaid & Barkin are very good, they work well together. You’re bang on about the crime part of the film being boring – it really is. And yeh, the baddies are feckin obvious from the word go.

    Great anecdote about the chunky wench…

    Nice one, Jarv.

    • Jarv says :

      It works so well as a melodrama/ romance and the crime bit is almost a let down.

      It’s fucking blatant who’s behind it. Epic fail as a twist.

      Still, I rate it.

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