Friday, October 30, 2015

Cane Toads, Contraband and Comic Criminals

Review: Big Trouble by Dave Barry


I never needed Depends before, but I guess there just comes a time in one’s life…

For me, it happened without warning the first time I read Dave Barry’s excruciatingly funny Big Trouble, a romp of a story about a pocket nuclear weapon, two sub-mental crooks trying to sell it, a couple of klutzy hit men after a sniveling embezzler, and a drifter who lives in a tree. What happens when this crew of losers encounter an everyday Miami family, a pair of cops on patrol, a pretty immigrant (and a hallucinogenic toad)? 

Pandemonium.

The book (which came first for me) is not quite identical to the movie starring Tim Allen, Rene Russo and Stanley Tucci. Although it is hard to believe if you’ve seen the film, the novel is also much funnier. 

It opens (and closes) with Puggy, a hopeless vagrant whose happiest moment comes when he discovers the abandoned treehouse at the Herk house. It’s free, it’s quiet, it’s private—at least until the hit men show up looking for Arthur Herk (Stanley Tucci in the film), a self-absorbed embezzler who doesn’t deserve his lovely wife (Rene Russo) and screwball daughter.

Herk has made the major mistake of his life, borrowing and losing money from the wrong family. His life-lesson is due to come from a pair of dedicated, focused hit men who are simply not prepared for the muggy Miami nights. Their initial hit is thrown off by a simultaneous paint-ball assassination by Eliot Arnold’s son. By an unfortunate coincidence, Eliot (Tim Allen’s role) is at the Herk house apologizing for an earlier episode with his son. Herk’s single-minded nastiness, Eliot’s immediate attraction to Anna Herk, and the clueless cops who investigate the scene, are merely frosting on the hilarious goings-on behind the scenes.

See, a couple of local small-time gangsters have found this nuclear weapon. They’ve dragooned Puggy (remember Puggy?) to help them set it up for sale. Eliot’s son Mark and Anna Herk’s daughter Jenny happen to witness one of the bloodier steps in the crooks’ plans, and Jenny winds up hostage on a plane that is also carrying the bomb.

Any time things threaten to get serious, Barry rings in the psychedelic cane toad, the terror of the Herk’s dog, and the deliverer of ironic payback to at least one criminal.

So, go on, get the book—at least, rent the movie! And you might want to lay in some Depends, just in case.