Back in 1991, American Film magazine delineated five themes that run through the Coen brothers' movies: "howling fat men, blustery titans, violence, vomiting and peculiar haircuts." If you substitute "having one's head shoved into a toilet bowl" for "vomiting," the Coen-heads are right on target in their latest film, The Big Lebowski. A nightmarishly giddy tribute to The Big Sleep, The Big Lebowski is willfully, even skillfully weird. But it doesn't add up to much, which must please the Coens to no end. Jeff Bridges stars as "the Dude," a stoner who hasn't come down since the '60s. Though ensconced in the sun-and-fun culture of Southern California, the Dude isn't a surfer dude, he's a bowler dude--a pinhead. So are his best friends: Walter (John Goodman), a Viet vet who's not afraid to draw a firearm during league play, and Donny (Steve Buscemi), a bulb so dim he needs replacing. The Dude might have spent the rest of his days hitting strikes and spares if life hadn't thrown him a seven-ten split in the form of a Pasadena millionaire (David Huddleston) who happens to share the Dude's real name: Jeff Lebowski. Extortion, embezzlement and wackiness ensue... ...and ensue and ensue. Like The Big Sleep's, The Big Lebowski's plot is all but impossible to keep up with. Less a shaggy-dog story than a mangy-dog story, it introduces us to such certified oddballs as Jesus Quintana (John Turturro), the pederastic Mambo King of Playmore Lanes. Of course, Jesus has nothing to do with the rest of the movie; he's just a funny idea the Coens had. The Big Lebowski is full of funny ideas, many of which are funny only as ideas. If you ask me, the Coens should have stayed at the bowling alley, where they had a nice little movie going. Instead, like the Dude, they've indulged themselves in every way possible. Having won an Oscar for Fargo, they're high on their own freedom to do whatever the hell they feel like doing. Unfortunately, they don't feel like making a movie that holds together even on its own head-trippy terms. The Big Lebowski drowns in their stream of consciousness.
If Larry Flynt is the poor man's Hugh Hefner, Al Goldstein is the poor man's Larry
Flynt, despite having beaten Flynt into the dirty-pictures business by several years. I've never seen Screw magazine, Goldstein's claim to fame and fortune, so I don't know where to place it in the cliterary canon. Goldstein himself has been quoted as saying that Playboy's too airbrushed and Hustler's not airbrushed enough, but that was before Flynt got his own airbrushing in The People vs. Larry Flynt. And before last year's pickles-and-beaver celebration, Boogie Nights. Its face freshly scrubbed, porn has hit the mainstream, and Goldstein wants a piece of the action.