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Coens' caper: one original comedy

The following is an edited version of a review published March 6, 1998, in the St. Petersburg Times:

By STEVE PERSALL
Published April 10, 2005


  A confederacy of Dudes
The Coen brothers' film The Big Lebowski has attracted a cult following of fans who gather at Lebowski Fests to bowl, drink White Russians and abide by "the Dude."

You see, none of this would've happened if the Chinaman hadn't relieved himself on the Dude's prized rug, the one that really tied the room together in his burnout-chic apartment.

Dude wouldn't be involved in this kidnapping gig that might conflict with the bowling league semifinals, his best buddy Walter wouldn't be using the plan to relive a few gung-ho 'Nam memories, and a mysterious trio of Nihilists would have no right to toss a live marmot into Dude's bathtub to get him to talk. A carpet stain seems like a small price to pay to avoid all that.

If the Dude hadn't reacted the way he did, though, moviegoers wouldn't be able to cherish the most original and blithely astonishing comedy to blaze across the screen since Raising Arizona.

(The Big Lebowski) is a caper filmed through a marijuana-and-White Russian haze that trails Dude wherever he shuffles. Jeff Bridges plays Dude with so much stoned assurance, and so many priceless reactionary moments, that you feel you're watching a comedy icon being created before your eyes. Like Bluto Blutarski, the Dude is one of those profane antiauthority figures to be fondly remembered and imitated forever.

John Goodman (delivers a) terrific performance as Walter Sobchak, who doesn't think soldiers died face down in the muck in Vietnam so he can be stopped from doing whatever he wants. Goodman crashes through the plot like a surreal water buffalo, not quite aware that he's thousands of clicks away from a rice paddy. Walter's aggression is partly due to postwar stress and partly because he's a big kid who enjoys playing games with Dude. Goodman plays it poker-faced and unpredictable, with a thousand-mile stare that melts with genuine affection for his little buddy in the most unlikely moments.

It occurred to me during a screening of The Big Lebowski that the last work of art that gave me this same dazed and amused feeling wasn't a film, but the book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson. Certainly there are parallels in the plot; a steady buzz of controlled substances and alcohol for the hero, his uncontrollable accomplice with some doomed scam, gonzo behavior and the endless possibilities that twisted Americana provides.

THINK YOU CAN BE AN ACHIEVER?

The next Lebowski Fest is planned for July 22 to 24 in Louisville, Ky., where Will Russell and Scott Shuffitt created the event. Ticket sales usually around $40 for both days' events will begin in "May or June" according to their Web site (www.lebowskifest.com) a casual plan befitting the laid-back Dude.

Official headquarters will be at Executive West Hotel, 830 Phillips Lane, near the airport and Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom amusement park, and next-door to Executive Bowl, where authorized parties will be held. Call 1-800-626-2708 for reservations, with a Lebowski Fest rate of $65 per room available.

Visit the Web site to join the Lebowski Fest mailing list for updates. The site also provides recaps and photographs from previous Lebowski Fests, including the recent Los Angeles convention. You can even order an "Achiever" T-shirt, and how proud you'll be to wear one.

[Last modified April 7, 2005, 09:36:03]


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