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Midnight Movie: The Big Lebowski

Mr. Lebowski : "Do you speak English son... A handout."

So like the Dude gets nowhere with his request so he just takes one of Mr. Lebowskis rugs. Of course it doesnt tie the whole room together like the old one but anyway this all leads to the Dude getting involved in a kidnapping, a swindle, a double cross, a sexual fling and a bowling tournament against a pederast named Jesus. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.


John Tuturro as Jesus. The Big Lebowski (Gramercy)

Joel and Ethan Coen claim that they want The Big Lebowski to be a 90's version of Raymond Chandler's gumshoe mysteries. So they set their film in L.A., have a voice over narration and offer an eccentric array of duplicitous characters. But the Coens cant resist tweaking genre expectations. As a result we get a laid back pothead instead of a hard boiled private eye and a voice over track delivered by a cowboy filled with prairie wisdom rather than a city slicker full of cynical observations. The Coens open the film with a tumbling tumbleweed that takes us from the dessert to the heart of the city and finally to the beach. It's a sequence that sets the stage for the way the Coens play the old west off of the new.

In a sense, The Big Lebowski is as much a regional portrait as Fargo was. Just as Fargo captured the cadence, mannerisms and attitudes of the Coens' Midwest, The Big Lebowski creates scenes that hilariously define the quirky diversity of L.A. and its inhabitants. And while Fargo's Marge kept the world in cheery perspective, The Big Lebowski's Dude reminds us to just take things easy.

As with Raising Arizona , The Big Lebowski gives us a protagonist whose dopey innocence seems to be his only protection from the real world. As the Dude, Jeff Bridges is like an older but not grown up Jeff Spicoli. He's a likable stoner who hasn't changed in decades and he's living proof that not everyone's a slave to the Protestant work ethic. The amazing thing about the film is the depth of its cast some of whom make only cameo appearances. This marvelous Coen ensemble includes John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, John Tuturro and Sam Elliott.

As with all the Coens' films, The Big Lebowski is impeccably crafted with fine work from cinematographer Roger Deakins and production designer Rick Henrichs. One of the highlights of the film is a dream sequence that combines equal parts Salvador Dali, Busby Berkeley and bowling erotica. Wait a minute is that a contradiction in terms? Plus there are great moments of Coen absurdity like a gang of German nihilists who toss a marmot into the Dudes bath as a means of torture.

The Big Lebowski is wonderfully entertaining but it runs out of steam in the final few scenes. Plus it lacks the richness and immaculate perfection of Fargo . But then the Coens never like to repeat themselves. And as the Dude says, appearances can be deceiving.

Dude : "This could be a lot more complex uh, uh... It might not be such a simple, you know."

The Dude abides... this Friday and Saturday at midnight at Landmark's La Jolla Village Theaters.

Companion viewing: Miller's Crossing, Raising Arizona, Surf's Up , Cutter's Way

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