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by Jim Wunderle

"The Big Lebowski"

Directed by: Joel Coen

Starring: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi

Rated: R

When it comes to humor, the Coen brothers are a rather eccentric pair. Hilariously eccentric, to be sure, but their comedy is such that some people just don't get it, and others just don't like it.

On the other hand, if the Coen kind of comedy is your cup of tea, you've got a big, satisfying portion waiting for you in "The Big Lebowski." I can't remember a recent film that was more fun to watch and I'm sure when Dec. 31 rolls around, it will remain one of my favorite films of the year heck, of the entire decade.

Not as dark as their last film, the Oscar winning "Fargo" from 1996, "The Big Lebowski" is, nevertheless, pure Coen brothers from beginning to end.

Who else could get away with having a film, set in 1991, be narrated by some sort of mythical cowboy who is telling the tale sitting at a bar while The Sons of the Pioneers sing "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" on the jukebox?

Like a few other great American film makers Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen come to mind the Coens are not only filmmakers but film fans as well. They seem to get great pleasure out of twisting genres at every turn.

Besides the cowboy narrator, there are a couple of beautifully filmed dream sequences and the garish light and color of the typical bowling alley has never been captured more effectively.

Jeff Bridges, new to the Coen stable of stars, plays Jeff Lebowski, a pot-smoking, White Russian-guzzling, middle-aged slacker who spends most of his free time bowling with his two best buddies.

Walter (John Goodman) is a shell-shocked Vietnam vet/gun nut who thinks nothing of pulling a loaded pistol during a league tournament, and Donny (Steve Buscemi) is the slightly dim-witted third side of the triangle.

You'd think a name like Jeff Lebowski might be somewhat rare, but in the world of the Coens, there is more than one. The Lebowski played by Bridges is not the "big" guy of the film's title. No, this Lebowski prefers the moniker "The Dude," but the two thugs who come calling early in the movie don't realize this.

They think The Dude is actually the Big Lebowski, a millionaire whose wife owes their boss a great deal of money.

They beat The Dude soundly, attack him with a ferret, stick his head in the toilet and then, adding insult to injury, one of the thugs urinates on The Dude's favorite rug ("It really tied the room together," he laments).

After all this, they finally realize that they aren't exactly in the surroundings of a millionaire and go on their way.

The damage is already done, though, and The Dude, egged on by the hilariously psychotic Walter, goes to see the Big Lebowski to get him to pay for cleaning the rug.

Instead, the Big L hires The Dude to make a money drop for him. It seems the thugs found the real Lebowski residence and kidnapped the man's wife. To make matters more Coen-esque, Mr. Lebowski receives a toe in the mail.

Sure enough, it's got his wife's color of polish on it. From here we are introduced to an unending cast of oddballs, including a feminist artist who swings naked in a harness splattering paint on a canvas; a group of Nihilists, one of them played by Red Hot Chili Pepper bassist Flea; a sex-offending wild man bowler named Jesus Quintana (played by the always-eccentric John Turturro); a totally hilarious scattering of a friend's ashes; and Saddam Hussein running the shoe stand at a bowling alley.

If none of this makes any sense on paper, don't worry about it, just roll with it, like the bowlers do.

One big plus for the Coens this time out is the stunning cinematography of Roger Deakins. Deakins most recently shot Scorsese's beautiful looking "Kundun" and has worked with the Coens before on "The Hudsucker Proxy" and "Barton Fink."

I'll say it again, I have no doubts "The Big Lebowski" will end up on every major "Best Of" list for 1998. If you enjoy the Coens' off-the-beaten-path style of humor, don't miss it.

(Jim Wunderle works at Associated Video Producers and is a Springfield free-lance writer and musician.)


Not as dark as their last film, 'Fargo,' 'The Big Lebowski' is, nevertheless, pure Coen brothers from beginning to end.[[In-content Ad]]


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