The Big Easy

james conway the big easy

THE BIG EASY wenn’dow easy’nuf wid critic back’de 19-an’a-86, but revisited 34 years lay’da mos’ly what sit easy on the di-ges’jun are the welcome infusions of Cajun spice from a few of the supporting players, some zydeco selections on the soundtrack and the New Orleans location shooting. Udderwise, mon, grab some of the Dave Robicheaux novels from James Lee Burke for your Lou’sana fix.

When a local mobster is offed in New Orleans, cocky detective lieutenant ‘Remy McSwain’ (Dennis Quaid) gets the case. But on his case is outsider state attorney ‘Anne Osborne’ (Ellen Barkin), investigating corruption in the department. You don’t have to have a badge, a law degree or a lick of sense that Evangeline gave a gator to figure that they’ll end up (1) at odds (2) between sheets, (3) at odds again, (4) fighting for survival and (5)…now, must we?

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The list of 80s movie cops who “played by their own rules” is longer than the Mississippi: only ‘the name of city is changed to protect the not-so-innocent’. Judging by the frenzied uvula-tag played by Quaid and Barkin in their makeout sessions, they took character depth to new–um, depths, in that regard, at least.  Too bad the performances are so obvious and shallow, the writing (Daniel Petrie Jr.) so forced, the action scenes so unlikely (direction was done by Jim McBride). Forced ‘color’, with Quaid obnoxious and Barkin charmless. Neither are at all believable as their respective professionals, nor, aside from the physical frontal assaults, is the scripts shoving them together. That so many critics fell for this is yet another mystery. Half of it plays like a comedy. It was well-reviewed, and made $17,685,307 at the box office (not great, not bad), 49th place for ’86. *

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With Ned Beatty, Lisa Jayne Persky, Grace Zabriskie (arresting as Quaid’s Cajun mama, the most compelling character in the movie), Charles Ludlam, Tom O’Brien, John Goodman, Ebbe Roe Smith, Marc Lawrence, Solomon Burke, Gailard Sartain. Famed JFK assassination investigator Jim Garrison plays a judge (which he was at the time). 96 minutes.

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* In interviews later, Quaid laid his jerky performance on his cocaine habit, which had him strung-out during the shoot. He told Newsweek: “By the time I was doing The Big Easy, in the late 1980s, I was a mess. I was getting an hour of sleep a night. I had a reputation for being a ‘bad boy,’ which seemed like a good thing, but basically I just had my head stuck up my ass. I’d wake up, snort a line, and swear I wasn’t going to do it again that day. But then 4 o’clock rolled around, and I’d be right back down the same road like a little squirrel on one of those treadmills. The lack of sleep made it so my focus wasn’t really there, which affected my acting.”

Though he’d been quite good in The Right Stuff, Quaid’s best work lay ahead: Wyatt Earp, Savior, Far From Heaven.

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